In setting the pace for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, President Obama appears to have gotten it “about right.”
A Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll released Monday found that a large plurality of Americans believe the pace of the troop drawdown, set to begin next month, is “about right.”
The 44 percent of respondents who said so outnumber by 3 to 1 those who believe the withdrawal schedule is too hasty.
In a prime-time address last week, Obama said he would pull 10,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by the end of next summer.
The withdrawal covers the 33,000 troops Obama ordered to Afghanistan at the end of months-long strategy review session in 2009.
By the time the drawdown is complete, 68,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan, where international forces have been fighting the Taliban for nearly a decade.
The last so-called surge forces will depart Afghanistan just two months before voters decide whether to give Obama a second term. A majority of the country, confronting severe economic and fiscal problems at home, no longer believes the war is worth fighting.
Underscoring the nation’s war-weariness, the new Post-Pew poll found that 29 percent of Americans believe Obama’s withdrawal schedule does not bring forces home fast enough. That is twice as many as those who worry that the drawdown is too fast — fears that Obama’s military commanders said they also had during discussions before the president made his announcement.
The poll found that Republicans continue to be the main supporters of the war, with 28 percent saying Obama’s plan will reduce forces too quickly. Only 5 percent of Democrats said the same thing.
But the results also pose a political challenge for Republican presidential hopefuls.
A similar proportion of Republicans – 32 percent – said Obama’s plan is not aggressive enough in bringing the troops home. The split within the party could make it hard for GOP candidates to find the right message on the war to win over primary voters.
Obama has been courting independent voters for months, and 40 percent of respondents who identified themselves as independents said his withdrawal plan is “about right.” Another 33 percent said the plan is not aggressive enough in reducing forces, with only 16 percent saying that the withdrawal schedule is too fast.
In a Pew poll conducted in late February, half the respondents said they expected Obama to set a troop withdrawal timeline that was “about right.” The new survey found that those expectations were largely met along party lines.
The Post-Pew telephone poll was conducted June 23 (the day after Obama’s troop withdrawal announcement) to June 26 among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.