An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll today found that the public now supports sending more troops to Afghanistan...and not only that: a resounding 58 percent majority thinks it's best for President Obama to delay his final decision until after Afghanistan holds its presidential run-off election on November 7.
All this is good news for the White House: the American public supports Obama in exactly the two areas in which he faces political opposition. The left doesn't want more troops, while the right (embodied most recently by Dick Cheney and John McCain), have attacked the president for waiting too long to decide. Evidently, the public doesn't agree with either group of critics.
But the poll reveals more complex opinions on exactly how many troops to send and what mission they should undertake.
The public supports, by a margin of 55-36, sending 10,000 more troops for "fighting insurgents in some areas" and "putting additional emphasis on training for Afghanistan's army and police. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has asked for 10,000 more troops as the lowest feasible option in his report to the president.
But after that, consensus breaks down, and the public opposes the compromise figure of 40,000 troops Obama is considering and McChrystal reportedly favors.
As the NBC/WSJ pollsters progressed through other options, they found that Americans don't support Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for a troop increase of 40,000 with a broader mandate to police the nation for insurgents--that option was deemed acceptable by 43 percent of respondents, while 49 percent said it wasn't. The country is split evenly on a near-complete withdrawal with a narrower counterterrorism mission of special-forces and drone attacks along the Pakistani border.
The poll did not ask respondents what they think of McChrystal's ceiling number--80,000 more troops. Given the trend, it's probably safe to project that they'd oppose it.
But the biggest paradox represented by the poll is this: while Americans oppose Gen. Stanley McChrystal's proposal, they want U.S. generals to make the decisions when it comes to troop levels. A full 62 percent said they had more confidence in "the generals running operations in the country," while only 25 percent said they had more confidence in the president and the secretary of Defense, when it comes to troop decisions.
So while Americans don't like what they're hearing from America's top general in Afghanistan, they still want the president, in theory, to follow his generals' advice.