The Twists And Turns Of Afghanistan Opinion

After Americans said they support sending more troops to Afghanistan two weeks ago, they now say they don't: new data from CNN/Opinion Research Group shows Americans oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan 56 percent to 42 percent.

If nothing else, it shows that U.S. opinions on the war in Afghanistan, and what its future should look like, are complex.

Two weeks ago, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that Americans support sending more troops by a margin of 47-43. Americans most liked the idea of sending 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan--the lowest figure proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal--supporting that by a margin of 55-36, while they opposed sending the 40,000 McChrystal proposed as his median figure. CNN didn't ask about different numbers of troops--it just asked whether people like the idea of "sending more."

CNN finds that people oppose the war in general, and by a pretty strong margin: 58-40.

CNN also tells us that Americans are split almost evenly on whether the president is taking too long to make his decision: 49 percent think he is, while 50 percent think he's not. But the same survey, which concluded Nov. 1, other results of which have already been released, shows that Americans don't approve of how he's handling the war 56-42. Those figures are worse for Obama than a recent AP/GfK poll, which showed Americans disapproving of how he's handled the war 48-42.

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What's remained constant throughout this, though, is that Americans want Obama to follow the advice of his generals (CNN finds that to be the case by a 52-48 margin; NBC/WSJ found the same, with 62 percent expressing more confidence in the generals and 25 percent expressing more confidence in the president.

Which is a bit paradoxical, since Obama's generals are telling him to send more troops...which the American people evidently don't support.

A lot has changed in the past two weeks. For one, Obama has taken an extra two weeks to make his decision. Perhaps more importantly, Hamid Karzai was declared winner of Afghanistan's presidential election without a runoff, which was supposed to be held after more than a million votes were thrown out from the first round, due to massive fraud that benefited Karzai.

That event may very well have changed Americans' minds. A full 90 percent of Americans said they did not think that, within the next 12 months, there would be a stable and democratic government in Afghanistan that can maintain order without U.S. troops. 64 percent said there wouldn't be such a  self-sustaining government eventually, without any time frame, vs. 32 percent who said there will be.

It's hard to compare polls from different polling agencies on an issue as tough, and as close in Americans' minds, as Afghanistan. Polling on health care, for instance, has been all over the place: the public option has seen solid support, and backing of the overall plan has wavered between narrow support and narrow opposition (it's settled in opposition for a while now), depending on which polling firm you believe.

What all this says, concretely, I guess, is that Obama knows what he must do to sell his decision to the American people, whatever it ends up being. If he sends more troops, he'll say he was taking his generals' advice. If he doesn't, he'll say the American people don't support the war, and that he can't, in good conscience, risk American lives propping up a corrupt regime that can't sustain itself.

Until then, the skeptical American public will continue to disapprove of how he's handled things, and it will perhaps continue to go back and forth on what it actually wants him to do.