As President Obama and his war cabinet deliberate a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, Americans are evenly and deeply divided over whether he should send 40,000 more troops there, and public approval of the president's handling of the situation has tumbled, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has recommended the substantial increase in troop strength, and 47 percent of those polled favor the buildup, while 49 percent oppose it. Most on both sides hold their views "strongly." The survey also found that a large majority of Americans say the administration lacks a clear plan for dealing with the problems in Afghanistan.
The troop decision is one of the most complex and fateful strategic security choices of Obama's presidency. It also carries great political risk, whichever way he goes.
Ordering more U.S. forces to Afghanistan could open a rift with Obama's fellow Democrats, most of whom call the battle "not worth fighting" and adamantly oppose the idea. But the Republicans polled take diametrically opposed views on the war, and a decision not to accept the commander's recommendation probably would heighten their opposition to the president.
Adding to Obama's political predicament is that few support winnowing the mission in Afghanistan to a targeted focus on anti-U.S. elements, a position supported by some in the administration. Such a move could lessen the need for additional troops.
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