American antiwar sentiment is consolidating, according to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, despite months of official fanfare promoting the US military offensive in Afghanistan.
The news comes as the US military prepares its summer offensive in Kandahar, as Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai is welcomed to the White House, and Congress considers $33 billion for the troop escalation on top of $159 billion for another year of war.
On his recent trip to Afghanistan, President Obama exulted over rising approval numbers for his escalation strategy. But that moment of exhilaration is over. Asked whether the war was worth its costs, the new poll results were 52 percent "not worth it" against 45 percent "worth it."
Obama's support comes overwhelmingly from Republicans, who gave 69 percent support. The president's own Democratic Party base has deserted his policy by a 66 percent margin, 38 percent saying they are strongly against. Independent voters have shifted from 47 percent thinking the war was worth fighting in December to 56 percent now against.
Battlefield events ahead could change public opinion again. But for now, Pentagon press releases and presidential charm have failed to win what Gen. Stanley McChrystal terms "the war of perceptions." Not a single mainstream media commentator or newspaper has editorialized against the war, indicating the independence of public opinion.
With mid-term elections approaching, the new survey numbers are sure to bolster progressive Congressional Democrats who have been reluctant to break with Obama's policies. It becomes more difficult for Democrats to pass $200 billion in war appropriations without amendments requiring a timetable for US withdrawal and peace talks with the Taliban. Votes are near on funding for the escalation as well as HR 5015 and SB 3197, the McGovern-Feingold exit strategy package.
Several factors seem behind the public's renewed skepticism:
Public safety questions: The hawks are losing their longstanding argument that the Long War is making Americans safer. Instead the war is causing blowback. An American soldier, Nidal Malik Hasan, killed 13 US troops at his Fort Hood base last year. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nearly succeeded in blowing up a commercial airliner with over 300 passengers in Detroit December 25. Most recently, Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad parked a bomb-laden vehicle in Times Square that could have killed and injured thousands.
Unaffordable costs: Iraq alone will cost $3 trillion according to the authoritative Bilmes-Stiglitz study. The cumulative cost of Afghanistan through 2009 was $228 billion; at the present rate of $60 billion/year, it will reach $1 trillion by the end of an Obama second term. This rising deficit spending will devour any new spending for Obama's domestic agenda.
Another quagmire: The public senses that the Karzai regime is corrupt, unpopular and incapable of surviving if the American and NATO forces withdraw. Estimates for building and stabilizing an Afghan army and police force are as long at 25 years.
WHAT THE PEACE MOVEMENT CAN DO
As stated here before, this shift in public opinion is not caused by the peace movement directly. From its peak in 2006-2009, the movement's organizational base has fragmented, declined or been diverted by other issues such as health care and the Wall Street meltdown. While the Afghanistan war is becoming unpopular, therefore, the opposition lacks intensity at this point.
Perhaps the most important strategy for the peace movement is base-building in communities around the country, focusing on these tasks:
- building coalitions with constituent organizations which are not part of the peace movement, but are injured by the Administration's Afghanistan spending [labor, seniors, people of color, environmentalists, etc.]
- building a capacity to affect close elections this November [by amassing voter lists for direct mail against hawks or wavering doves]
- by direct action and online organizing to highlight the war's cost, civilian casualties, drone attacks, blowback, etc.
Currently, many small anti-war groupings seem to be jockeying for position in the Beltway instead of launching organizing drives in critical Congressional districts or regions. An exception is the successful effort by Progressive Democrats of America [PDA] and partners in labor and single-payer groups to hold scores of "brown bag" [as opposed to tea bag] vigils outside Congressional district offices. Since January, over 500 brown-bag vigils have been held at 114 Congressional offices.
One example is occurring in South Carolina, a virulently-red state with an important Democratic House member, Rep. John Spratt, who is pivotal to the military budgeting process. The South Carolina Progressive Network, based in Columbia, is pressuring Spratt about the negative impact of $7.7 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan spending on the state's budgetary crisis. [For more information, contact Brett Bursey, director of SCPN, email@example.com]
A single meeting is unlikely to sway a Congressmember's vote, but persistent community pressure from within their Congressional districts is a factor that politicians cannot easily ignore. Multiplied over many Congressional districts, that pressure could maximize Congressional opposition to Obama's policy as the elections near. A tumbling effect could follow, with war-weary Canadians and Europeans seeing the handwriting on the wall, leading to irreversible pressure for a negotiated political settlement.