If support for the administration's policy in Libya has plummeted, what Barack Obama should find more disturbing is the downturn in support for the war in Afghanistan. The Washington Post-ABC News survey that came out on Monday showed that 49 percent of the respondents disapproved of Obama’s management of the war as compared with 44 percent who approved. This marks a reversal of the figures for January where those voicing approval were ascendant by nearly the same margin.
This poll was taken before the respondents could factor in two events that occurred in Afghanistan within the space of about a week. The first was the jailbreak of over 400 Taliban prisoners from the prison in Kandahar. The second was today's fatal shooting of 9 Americans by an Afghan military pilot.
The Taliban are obviously reading the polls and are interested in staging electrifying events that will further shake the confidence of American public opinion. The jailbreak demonstrates the daring and skill of the perpetrators but it equally shows a massive local support system for the Taliban in an area accorded high security.
The attack in Kabul Airport came presumably as a result of a dispute, but the Taliban were quick to claim that the pilot had acted at their behest. Even in the best case, supposing airport rage, the fact that a pilot who received his training during the NATO presence in Afghanistan could act in such a manner calls into question the feasibility of a security transfer to Afghan troops.
Supporters of the war have been confidently predicting that the United States could already hand over responsibility for some areas to local Afghani troops. If the pilot was representative of the local replacements, then the imminent Afghanization of the war is a very questionable assumption.
The incident also took place in a most secure area. It was admittedly not a repeat of 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam where the Vietcong fought inside the US embassy compound in Saigon and shocked American opinion. However a succession of such incidents could create a cumulative Tet effect with similar repercussions for a fatigued public.
During the 2008 presidential elections the then candidate Barack Obama argued that there was a wrong war (Iraq) and a right war (Afghanistan) and it was in the right war the United States should invest its military muscle together with its NATO allies. The rising disapproval ratings show that Obama has not managed to rally American public opinion around the right war.
As in the case of the Tet Offensive, the jailbreak in the airport attack may be deceiving and things may be going the way of the NATO coalition that reported this week the killing of a senior Taliban leader. However as Vietnam proves, the televised images and the public mood can frequently outweigh or obscure the reality on the ground.
In perhaps a tacit acknowledgment to his predecessor, Obama has brought in as a relief pitcher to Kabul, the US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. Obama can only hope that Afghanistan will eventually resemble the current situation in Iraq.