Policymakers Ignoring Public Opinion on Afghanistan War

Washington Post editor Jackson Diehl’s op-ed “Obama and Romney are ignoring the Afghanistan war” made quite a splash.

“Here’s some news that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would like you to ignore: Tens of thousands of American soldiers are at war this summer in Afghanistan,” Diehl wrote, concluding that both presidential candidates find talking about the war “uncomfortable and politically unprofitable.”

The candidates silence on the Afghanistan war shows how out of touch they and other policymakers are with the American public. Americans have strong opinions on Afghanistan, and the latest polls show it.

According to a July poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, two-thirds of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan has not been worth the costs.

Support for the war has declined steadily over the past several years. Five years ago, over half of poll respondents said the war has been worth fighting, compared to only one in three this year.

The belief that the costs of the war outweigh the benefits is stronger among Democrats and Independents, but a majority of Republicans (58%) agree, according to the Chicago Council poll.

There’s more behind the decline in public support than war-weariness. Americans aren’t tired simply because the war has been long; they’re tired of spending billions of dollars on a war that no longer advances vital U.S. security interests.

Counting only direct war costs, the U.S. has spent over $550 billion on the Afghanistan war since 2001. The effect on the economy has been devastating. “For more than a decade now, we’ve waged war as if it were free,” writes The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, “keeping our wars off the budget and, rather than paying for them as they were fought, slapping them on the national credit card.”

Increasing the federal debt has an effect on every American. Take interest rates, for example. According to Brown University and the Watson Institute’s’ Costs of War Project, the average homebuyer had to make $600 more in mortgage payments because war borrowing has driven up interest rates.

This year, every week of war in Afghanistan costs American taxpayers $2 billion. War costs are going down, but not fast enough. Policymakers should take their cue from the public and work to end wasteful war spending.

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