Monday, December 30, 2013

Unpacking Unpopularity

CNN reports a poll that shows that Americans really do not like the Afghanistan war.  Is this surprising?  No, as we have a report this weekend indicating that the war will largely be for naught.

The problem I have with this piece is the context-less-ness.  It asserts that the war has a lower approval rating of any other American war.  That the war in Afghanistan has lower approval than Iraq or Vietnam.  Not to mention, um, the American Civil War, where not only was most of the South opposed to the US's war but much of the North as well. 

Anyhow, one would have to dig into the data to really get at this.  Since I have letters of recommendation to write, a few remaining papers to grade and other such stuff, let me just suggest a few things.

First, to explain the low approval rating, might I suggest that a key factor is timing.  Afghanistan was before but now after Iraq.  So, it is a bit of an unfair comparison as the US has been at war for about 12 years.  The years of Iraq casualties and controversy have no doubt depressed Americans' attitudes towards war in general with the Afghanistan war being the current one.  Plus Karzai and his anti-US tirades probably does not help.  US had lousy allies before (we sure know how to pick them) but they tend not to be so loud about why our help is not what they want. 

Second, when a war has a time limit, as this one does (2014!), it takes the air out of the sails of anyone advocating more war.  

Third, these polls are one indicator of a war's unpopularity.  But I would suggest another: how many big protests have there been against this war?  Crickets.  There was far more mobilization against Vietnam in any single month in the late 1960s than over the past twelve years against the Afghanistan war.  We are sick and tired of war, but visible, demonstrated disapproval?  Not so much.

So, yeah, we are now looking back at the war and are not so thrilled with how it went.  The big names attached to the war--McC and Petraeus are besmirched.  Our ally in the region did its best to help the other side.  The waste in dollars is only beginning to be documented now.  The toll in human lives will only increases with PTSD and suicides being far more public and well known that similar results of previous wars.  Karzai is Karzai and all that.

Americans should not be super-happy about the war, but most unpopular?  Only by a very narrow definition.

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