Charles Dharapak/AP
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attend a press conference Thursday at the White House.

Record-low support for Afghanistan war shows Obama's vulnerability

Opposition to the war in Afghanistan has Obama walking on eggshells with his Democratic base.

American public support for the US-led war in Afghanistan has reached a record low, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

The poll, released Thursday, found a record 60 percent of Americans say the war has not been “worth fighting.” Of those 60 percent, 43 percent feel that way “strongly,” also a record for the ABC News/Washington Post poll. In all, 34 percent feel the war has been worth fighting, either strongly or somewhat.

The poll demonstrates the political risks to President Obama, whose administration released Thursday the one-year review of its revised strategy in Afghanistan. In remarks to reporters at the White House, Mr. Obama reported “significant progress” in the US-led effort’s core goal, which is “disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.” But Obama also called the gains “fragile.”

Now the longest-running war in US history, launched soon after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Afghanistan was bequeathed to Obama by his predecessor, President George W. Bush. But one year into the US-led “surge,” which saw a boost of some 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, it’s now Obama’s war – with all the attendant political risks.

Americans are split evenly on the surge, 48 percent for, 48 percent against. Obama’s overall handling of the war also gets a mixed review – 45 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval, according to the ABC News poll. In partisan terms, Republicans are far more supportive of the war than Democrats, but Republicans support Obama’s handling of the war less than Democrats do.

A Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll released earlier this month found a similar result: Fifty-two percent of Democrats called Obama’s handling of the war either “good” or “excellent,” versus 16 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of independents.

Obama’s not-bad overall ratings for handling of the Afghanistan war may reflect his pledge to start withdrawing US forces next summer, the ABC News analysis suggests. Fifty-four percent of Americans support that time frame, up 15 points from when it was first announced a year ago, according to ABC News.

But among his own Democratic base, Obama is walking on egg shells. US military leaders warn that the start of the withdrawal in July 2011 is “conditions based,” and they have placed more emphasis on their goal of turning over security responsibility to the Afghans in 2014 rather than the 2011 deadline. If it begins to look like not much is going to change next July, that could spark a primary challenge to Obama from his left. So far, the likeliest possibilities – former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and outgoing Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin – say they’re not running. But one or both could change their minds, and other antiwar candidates could emerge.

The most aggressive advocates from the antiwar left staged rallies around the country Thursday, including one in Washington. Members of the groups CODEPINK and Veterans for Peace chained themselves to the White House fence, leading to dozens of arrests. One of those arrested was Daniel Ellsberg, the antiwar activist best-known for leaking the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. Before the rally, Mr. Ellsberg held a press conference and expressed support for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and for the US Army private suspected of giving Wikileaks classified documents that were then publicly released.

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