WASHINGTON – Barack Obama built his career on opposing the Iraq war but now, as president, is poised for a politically perilous effort to pitch the United States deeper into another conflict, in Afghanistan.
Beset by the worst economic crisis in generations and rising diplomatic challenges, Obama is set within days to unveil an overhaul of strategy for a war that has no end in sight after seven years.
Expected plans to boost civilian aid to Afghanistan, woo moderate insurgents and expand the Afghan army will likely attract strong political support.
But the question of sending more troops to war is more controversial and the public’s long-term backing may depend on Obama making the sale.
“I am not opposed to all wars, I’m opposed to dumb wars,” Obama said in his famous 2002 speech against the looming Iraq war.
To convince all Americans that the Afghan conflict is a smart war, he must make the case that the conflict remains vital to US security and establish clear combat goals.
Americans are weary of the six-year war in Iraq, and Obama’s campaign vow to bring troops home was a significant factor in his defeat of Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and Republican foe John McCain last year.
Polls show Obama’s current popularity gives him the leverage to increase US involvement in Afghanistan, but reveal that support for the war may be soft and prone to erosion if the new strategy fails.
Sixty-three percent of those questioned last month in a CNN/Opinion Research poll supported sending more troops to Afghanistan.
But only 47 percent supported the war and 51 percent were against.
In a USA Today/Gallup poll, this month, 42 percent said it had been a mistake to send US forces to Afghanistan to chase Al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the September 11 attacks in 2001, up from 30 percent a month ago.
A Quinnipiac University poll found significant support — 62-31 percent for Obama’s recent decision to sign off on a 17,000 troop increase in Afghanistan, but the idea of sending 13,000 more only drew 47 to 43 percent support.
“It is reasonable to say that support for an increased build up for Afghanistan is soft,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute.
Pollsters say Obama’s personal popularity may be inflating backing for his Afghan strategy, and support for the war may flag should the president’s approval ratings diminish.