When terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, there was very little hesitation on the part of then President George W. Bush -- and the United States Congress -- to mount a retaliatory military campaign in Afghanistan, the place where bin Laden was training terrorists to kill Americans. The Taliban militants were control of Afghanistan at that time and they had provided training camps for bin Laden and al Qaeda to plan their terrorist activities against the United States. Bush gave the Taliban time to either hand over bin Laden (which they were not about to do) or prepare for a bombardment by U.S. military. The American public was fully behind the 2001 military engagement in Afghanistan, but few citizens at that time imagined that more than ten years later American soldiers would still be in Afghanistan, fighting the resurgent Taliban militants.
When President Barack Obama sent 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan in 2009, hoping to end America's involvement in the war and to transfer the responsibility for fighting it over to the Afghanis, there were signs in the polls that the public was getting restless. Meanwhile, the American public has become increasingly skeptical about the possibilities of winning the war. Given that the Taliban has been gaining strength, and given that an endless number of radical Islamic fighters can -- and do -- cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan on a regular basis, and that as of January 28, 1,870 American troops have died in Afghanistan, it is logical for Obama to now begin to draw down the troop strength in Afghanistan, and he is doing that.
Thesis: President Obama has announced a draw-down of troops from Afghanistan, mainly, it seems, due to the apparently unwinnable aspect to the conflict, because 1,870 U.S. troops have already died, because public opinion clearly has turned against the American involvement in the conflict, because of corruption by the Karzai regime, and because of the need to keep his promise to have the troops home by 2014.
Background to the Conflict in Afghanistan
Given that Obama inherited the war in Afghanistan, and that he also inherited the Bush version of the "war on terror" it was clear that Obama would seek to create a strategy of his own -- as any incoming president would do. On the campaign trail Obama promised to return the U.S. To a "…moral, benign and cooperative foreign policy"
that did not include torture and would close the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (McCrisken, 2011, p. 781). At that time, during the presidential campaign of 2008, the news media was uncovering evidence of policies that the Bush Administration had launched, including wiretapping American citizens without warrants, torturing detainees in remote, secret prisons, and conducting other policies regarding terrorists that were repugnant to the public.
It became one of Obama's campaign promises that he would end the American involvement in Iraq -- which he has done -- and that he would prosecute the war in Afghanistan and be willing to go into Pakistan to find bin Laden and to kill other terrorist leaders. According to McCrisken's article, Obama claimed that the "real war on terror" was in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that he would concentrate American military power in those areas exclusively (782).
By sending 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2010, Obama hoped to chase the Taliban out of Afghanistan, or at least secure key regions and cities in Afghanistan, and turn the defence of those regions and cities over to Afghani security forces.
As McCrisken points out very diplomatically, "…political realities have had a habit of complicating or undermining Obama's attempts to change both the substance and the tone of the struggle with terrorism" (782). As the war in Afghanistan dragged on, and the body count for U.S. casualties rose each week, terrible, high-profile accidents occurred -- for example, a helicopter with 30 U.S. soldiers, some of them elite Navy SEALS, was shot down on August 6, 2011, and all aboard were killed -- which caused the public to become increasingly restless and cynical about the progress of the war.
A draw-down of U.S. forces seemed inevitable and reasonable, and because this was not a war with clear battle lines, added to the public frustration was the fact that it was hard to know if any progress was indeed being made. The domestic context of the Afghanistan involvement -- public opinion -- seemed by the middle of 2011 to be every bit as important to the administration as the war effort itself.
McCrisken correctly notes that one event in the Obama efforts against terrorism stands out as a major victory for the United States, and that was the killing of Osama bin Laden in May, 2011. Obama could claim "…the greatest victory yet in Washington's 'war on terror', and one that had constantly eluded and frustrated… George W. Bush" (783). Americans remember well that immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., Bush forcefully asserted that the American military would get bin Laden, "dead or alive." But that did not happen during Bush's tenure in the White House, so when Obama gave the orders to the Navy SEALS to go into Pakistan and take bin Laden out, and the operation was a success, it gave a boost to Obama's administration.
Given that bin Laden was the individual "…in whom the threat of international terrorism was so strongly personified," McCrisken explains (783), Obama appeared to "…have successfully insulated himself from any further criticism over his counterterrorism policies." The public response to the daring raid on bin Laden's Pakistan compound was enormous. Talk of bringing troops home from Afghanistan faded from the public discourse for a few weeks. In fact public opinion -- following Obama's stunning success at killing bin Laden -- showed favorable signs for Obama's administration and for the effort against terrorism.
The Gallup Poll showed that "…a slim majority of Americans now say things are going well for the United States in Afghanistan"
; in fact right after the raid that killed bin Laden, there was a four-percentage-point increase from late March, 2011 to May 11. Some 51% of Americans polled indicated they thought the war was going well, based apparently on the belief that Americans held that somehow bin Laden was in charge of the aggression in Afghanistan, or that just the absence of bin Laden would mean better success for Americans in Afghanistan.
The Gallup Poll reflected that 55% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats saw the killing of bin Laden as an indication the war in Afghanistan was going well. Moreover, the same Gallup Poll reported that in May, 2011, 58% of Americans believe "it was not a mistake in sending troops to Afghanistan"; that was up from 53% of Americans that held that view in late March, 2011 (Gallup, 2011). Still, even after taking bin Laden out, 39% of Americans polled said that going into Afghanistan was a mistake. It is not clear if those Americans polled really remembered why Bush sent troops and war planes into Afghanistan to begin with, because at that time (October, 2001) nearly 100% of those polled supported routing the Taliban and bin Laden's terrorist organization from Afghanistan.
Continuing on the subject of the need for American troops to be removed from Afghanistan -- and the draw down that is taking place in increments -- just a week prior to the successful raid to kill bin Laden, a Washington Post -- ABC News poll, showed that 49$ of Americans "…disapprove of Obama's management of the war and 44% voiced approval"
(Wilson, et al., 2011, p. 1). The article in the Washington Post stated that Americans have given Obama "…leeway in escalating the conflict…which as a presidential candidate he called 'the war we have to win'" (Wilson, 1). That "latitude is changing -- and fairly quickly -- as the longer-running of the two wars he inherited approaches the 10-year mark" (Wilson).
Subsequent to that article, the last of the troops from Iraq have been brought home, but in April, according to the Washington Post -- ABC News poll, 49% of Americans surveyed said they "disapprove of Obama's management of the war" and some 44% said they approved of his conduct of the war (Wilson, 1). That 49% disapproval mark was the highest that the two polls had recorded, and it was in exact contradiction to the poll taken in January, 2011, when 49% of those polled indicated they approved of Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan, and 41% disapproved (Wilson, 1). Of course, public opinion is very elastic and flexible, rising and falling with events that are splashed on television, in newspapers, on radio and on the Internet.
The article pointed out that the "…steadily waning support for the war" and for Obama's stewardship vis-a-vis the war might well have "political implications as the president fights for reelection" (Wilson, 2). What seemed significant on April 25, 2011,…