The latest poll of Afghan opinion by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD of Germany — their fifth since 2005 — contains both good news and bad. Naturally the BBC account accentuates the negative: “People in Afghanistan have far less confidence in the direction their country is taking than four years ago, a new BBC/ABC opinion poll suggests.” But dig a little deeper in the full poll results and you find that, while more Afghans than ever before think their country is headed in the “wrong direction” (38 percent, up from 24 percent in 2007), due primarily to lack of security, only 4 percent would like to be ruled by the Taliban; 82 percent prefer the current government. Hamid Karzai’s popularity rating has slipped; today he is rated as “excellent” by only 16 percent, down from 26 percent in 2007 and a whopping 45 percent in 2005. But if you combine the number who still rate him as an “excellent,” “good,” or “fair” leader, you still get to 81 percent of the population; only 18 percent describe him as a “poor” president.
Moreover, while support for the U.S. has fallen, largely, I suspect, because U.S. troops haven’t delivered security for most people, 63 percent still support the presence of U.S. troops (36 percent oppose), and 69 percent think the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 was a good thing. By contrast, Taliban fighters are supported by just 8 percent of the population and opposed by 90 percent. Moreover, when asked who is to blame for the violence occurring in their country, only 18 percent blame the U.S.; 49 percent blame the Taliban or foreign jihadists.
In short, this polls suggests that, though the U.S. has its work cut out for it in Afghanistan, there is a considerable base of public support that our troops can tap into — and more important, public revulsion against the enemy they are fighting, the Taliban. The Russians in the 1980s had nowhere near this level of support. If NATO forces do a better job of beating back the Taliban, expect their support to go from merely high, which it is today, back to the stellar levels recorded in 2005, when 68 percent gave the U.S. forces good or excellent marks for their job performance (now down to 32 percent).