Foreign Policy Blogs

President Obama in Afghanistan: Good for the Polls and Much More


Barack Obama made his first trip to Afghanistan as president a few days ago, and during his 6 hours in the country he met with President Karzai, Gen. McChrystal, and Ambassador Eikenberry. It has been reported that Obama pressed Karzai on clamping down on corruption and that their conversations were very much ‘down to business’.

In related news, the US president’s approval rating (WaPo poll) for his management of the Afghanistan situation, unlike other areas such as health care, jobs, and the economy, is on the rise. During the height of his ‘dithering stage’ on choosing an Afghan strategy in October, November of 2009, his ratings had turned upside down, with more disapproving (48%) than approving (45%). This was a long fall from early in 2009 when Obama held strong in the low 60’s. As I argued in late 2009, it wasn’t so much the situation on the ground that was causing Americans to become disenfranchised with our presence and ability to win in Afghanistan, though that certainly was a factor, but a lack of leadership from the nation’s leaders. The only time Obama talked about Afghanistan was about how difficult a situation it was him and the US. Don’t believe me? The American public wanted to see a leadership that had a plan that it believed in. ‘Either we are in to win or let’s get the heck out!’

Since the announced Afghan surge strategy at West Point, the Obama administration has enjoyed ever growing levels of support, November 45%, December 52%, January 50%, and the latest from a couple days ago, 53%, with an incredible only 35% disapproving. These numbers come despite the fact that American combat deaths have doubled and injuries tripled from this time last year. The uptick in the poll numbers is good for the president and should show the administration that the American public is willing to give him time to show positive results from McChrystal’s surge strategy. This latest visit by Obama, especially with images like the one below, will only help.

Garnering domestic support for a war over seas is a crucial part of any winning war strategy. President Obama must spend political capital on fostering support for the Afghan war effort by reminding the American public the stakes involved and communicate that we have a strategy in place that can bring success. Now that the health care debate is thankfully not dominating his agenda any longer, I expect more public attention to be shown by President Obama about this critical issue to US foreign policy. The poll numbers show he’ll have a somewhat friendly audience.


(Photos: Fox News)