Congress Continues to Ignore Public Opinion on Afghanistan

Every recent opinion poll confirms declining public support for the war. A March Washington Post poll finds that 60% of respondents believe the war has not been worth the costs. 72% say they oppose the war and 77% want to withdraw all U.S. troops in 2014 or earlier, according to a March CNN poll. An April poll from The Christian Science Monitor finds that 63% of respondents do not support the recently announced US-Afghan Strategic Agreement, which commits the U.S. to ten years of aid and military support for Afghanistan.

The downward trend shows that Americans are responding to mounting evidence that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan just isn’t working. Each year since 2001 the U.S. has spent an average of $45 billion on the Afghanistan war. Troop levels peaked at about 101,000 in 2010; today some 90,000 U.S. troops are still deployed in Afghanistan. U.S. casualties number close to 2,000, including 378 deaths since the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

With the primary goal – dismantling al-Qaeda – accomplished, we continue nation-building in a country where there is no basic security. IED attacks set a record high in 2011. Questions about the capability of the Afghan Security Forces persist. Billions of dollars invested in aid projects are abandoned because the Afghan government cannot afford to pay for them.

It has become clear, at least to the American public, that we are wasting our resources.  But still, some members of Congress persist in advocating for sustaining, or even expanding, our role in Afghanistan. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), for example, believes “bringing these 20,000 troops home this year is too soon,” and has called for U.S. troops to replace local security forces who guard U.S. facilities in Afghanistan. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-NC), who supports keeping 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan past 2014, insists that “We have made progress, and we do have strong allies within Afghanistan

Congress’ latest effort to prolong the war is the 2013 Department of Defense authorization bill, recently passed by the House Armed Services Committee. The HASC bill includes a provision to maintain 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2014, and “maintain a credible troop presence after December 31, 2014, sufficient to conduct counter-terrorism and train and advise the Afghan National Security Forces.” This plan would cost billions of dollars, not to mention the lives of U.S. soldiers.

Not all members of Congress are tied to a losing strategy in Afghanistan. Some, like Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) have actively worked for an accelerated drawdown and greater oversight of U.S. spending in Afghanistan. Thus far these efforts have failed, and the gap between a public that wants to end the war and policymakers determined to sustain it continues.

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