“It is the most buttoned-up conversation in Republican ranks,” said a senior GOP Senate adviser. “You hear about it in private conversations but you don’t read about it. The questions being asked are, ‘What’s the plan? What’s achievable?’ The obvious problem and the reason you don’t hear about it is you can’t pull out too soon. That, and Republicans don’t talk (trash) about on-going missions. But serious conversations are happening about what we’re doing, our overall defense strategy, and what may come next with China or Iran.”
The unease with Afghanistan in Republican ranks, invisible and quiet though it may be, is circulating principally among the rank-and-file membership of the national security and foreign policy committees. Last week, Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told the Ripon Society that it was his hope public dismay with Afghanistan won’t lead to a swift withdrawal of forces. He blamed Obama for failing to adequately explain the stakes involved in the U.S. and NATO effort. “President Obama has given three speeches about Afghanistan,” McKeon said. “He hasn’t done anything to educate and bring the people along with why we are there.” Other GOP leadership sources say increasing public opposition to the war may eventually weigh on Congress.
The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 60 percent of the country no longer considers the Afghan war “worth fighting,” with 30 percent saying it is. That’s not the high-water mark of Afghan war fatigue. The same poll in March of 2011 found 64 percent said the war wasn’t worth fighting, with only 31 percent saying it was. The current poll found 54 percent said it was time to withdraw, even if Afghan forces are not ready to assume control of security operations. More ominously, the survey found 55 percent said they don’t believe Afghans support the U.S. security mission. In February, the Pew Research Center found that 20 percent of Americans thought Obama was withdrawing surge forces from Afghanistan “too quickly,” while 22 percent said they were not moving out “quickly enough.” Fifty-three percent, however, said the pace of U.S. withdrawal was “about right.”
“The president made clear back in 2009 we are leaving,” Reed said. “He has got us on the right trajectory.”
That trajectory, Obama said at his press conference last week, was meant to avoid a “cliff” in Afghanistan.
“What we are now going to be doing…is to make sure that that transition is not a cliff,” Obama said. "We're going to be able to find a mechanism whereby Afghans understand their sovereignty is being respected and that they're going to be taking a greater and greater role in their own security. I'm confident we can execute, but it's not going to be a smooth path. There are going to be bumps along the road.”
Hence the need for shock-absorbency. Now, more than ever.