President Obama's Afghanistan policy is rejected by 73 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independent voters in a CBS poll announced July 13. The critical difference separating Democrats and independents from Obama is that the strong majorities want a timetable set for troop withdrawals.
The survey data reflects the recent House vote by a majority of Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanding an exit strategy with a timeline. The measure failed, and the appropriation measure currently is stalled in the Senate. According to one House staffer, "the Senate will vote on the House's version of the supplemental. When the Senate fails to invoke cloture, Reid will insert a substitute that will cut the teacher funding. Then the Senate will send the package back over here. There would be tremendous pressure to vote on the Senate's package in the House."
So far Obama has escalated the war with mounting costs and casualties, but only set a July 2011 deadline to "begin" withdrawals. Despite public pressure to go further, Obama is being hammered from the Beltway to the battlefield by voices demanding that the deadline be set back, or driven by "conditions" on the ground.
The gap between insiders and the public is revealed in one survey question about "the best policy for US involvement in Afghanistan":
- "stick to the plan to start withdrawal of forces in July of next year even if the country is as unstable as it is today": 60%.
- "be open to keeping current number of forces in Afghanistan - or even adding more - if the country is still unstable in July of next year": 37%.
It will be main task of Gen. David Petraeus and the White House to turn these numbers around in the coming year, and the main task of anti-war forces to keep turning doubting voters into dissenters.
In SEPTEMBER, Rep. Bob Filner [D-San Diego] will hold hearings on US casualty numbers and fiscal costs. Peace advocates will be demanding the end of Pentagon under-counting of American war casualties.
By DECEMBER, Obama will be deep into another White House review of war policies, with the results of the Kandahar offensive central to the debate. Peace advocates will be demanding a swift shift to diplomacy, including peace talks with the Taliban.
In JANUARY-JUNE, Congressional debate on the war budget heats up once more, as the JULY deadline for beginning withdrawals approaches.