Afghanistan: What Americans really think

The pundits have spoken. Now, how does the rest of America feel about the war and more troops in Afghanistan? Conflicted but reluctantly supportive, it seems.

Patrik Jonsson / The Christian Science Monitor
Inaction by President Obama "means another Vietnam," says Air Force vet Bill Carpenter. His son, Matt Carpenter, is an Army mechanic set for deployment to Afghanistan.

It’s Oktoberfest weekend in America, but behind all those Rockwellian bratwurst feasts and open-air concerts lurks a nagging and building concern among many Americans over a faraway place: Afghanistan.

Polls show that Americans are begrudgingly getting used to perpetual wars, and just over half of Americans support the eight-year mission in Afghanistan, which has cost more than 800 American lives so far.

President Obama now faces a critical decision over whether or not to send up to 40,000 more troops to that critical Middle East outpost. The decision, according to Americans like Barbara Jones, could impact not only Obama’s legacy, but national security, soldiers’ sacrifices, and future conflicts.

“I’m so nervous for him and the world,” says Ms. Jones, an Obama supporter, poking through a city-wide yard sale on Stone Mountain’s town square. “This has become a costly war, but not just in terms of money, but emotional costs. This is a philosophical war. And people are war-weary.”

Lawmakers met with Obama this week before the White House conducted a marathon session Friday as it weighs national security and international politics against Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s warnings that failure to bulk up the troop presence could lead to defeat in Afghanistan.

Gen. McChrystal’s strategy, as explained by Monitor writers Ben Arnoldy and Dan Murphy here, aims to eke out victory as defined by using troops to protect civilians from a mounting counterinsurgency and staking out peaceful territories to let a democratic Afghanistan take hold.

Critics say the US is leaning too far toward a “trendy” counterinsurgency tactic that threatens to erode conventional capabilities and pave the way for open-ended conflicts.

Made only more difficult by the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Obama on Friday, the time has come for the president to stop pontificating and take decisive action, says Bill Carpenter, an Air Force veteran, whose son, Army mechanic Matt Carpenter, just received deployment orders for Afghanistan.

“The bottom line is you go to war to win,” says Mr. Carpenter, selling Halloween trinkets and books out of his old green Ford pick-up truck. “Do anything else and it’s a waste of time, money, and kids’ lives. My fear is that the President isn’t going to do anything and let it languish like Vietnam.”

The Baltimore Sun’s Ron Smith says Americans are ready for just that scenario. A new Clarus Research Poll shows 68 percent of Americans “agree with the idea that we won’t either win or lose the war in Afghanistan … but will instead just remain there,” Mr. Smith points out here.

Obama is “on the horns of a dilemma,” Mr. Smith continues. “Does he send troops [as McChrystal has requested] or does he change strategies, as advised by Vice President Joe Biden, and rely more on special ops and drones to harass the Taliban and Al-Qaeda?”

Retired car salesman Guy Brooks, a Republican, predicts that not sending troops will set a course for defeat -- a result with broad implications not just for US security, but the view of America in Pakistan, the broader Middle East, and the entire world.

“If we don’t try to win the war, we’ll lose it, and eventually just get out,” he says. “We all know we’ll be there at least another four to five years, and it’s worth a try to win it. Getting out means we’ll hurt our chances” in any potential future conflict.

Polls this week, showed that 52 percent of Americans believe Afghanistan is a just and necessary conflict, and also support a troop surge with a slim 48 to 45 margin according to a recent Gallup/USA Today survey. Moreover, 55 percent trust Obama to make the right decision on Afghanistan.

“The President’s got a big decision to make,” says Lester Davis, an engineer at Atlanta’s Four Seasons Hotel.

Democrat Ernie Franchell, a retired carpenter, agrees. “He’s got to buck up and make up his mind,” Mr. Franchell says. “Either way, this will be his defining moment.”


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