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Precipitous Withdrawal Will Hurt Obama

According to the most recent Gallup Poll, Americans broadly support President Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in Afghanistan this year, with additional troops scheduled to leave by the end of next summer and the remainder by 2014. Nearly three-quarters, 72 percent, are in favor, while 23 percent are opposed.

Two thoughts–the first of which is, these numbers aren’t terribly surprising. The Afghan war has been long (10 years and counting), hard and frustrating. The government with which we’re allied is corrupt. And so the nation has become war-weary. If the commander-in-chief isn’t willing to make the case for war, the (relatively) new strategy he’s put in place, or highlighting the progress being made – if the president is, in Bob Woodward’s apt phrase, “out of Afghanistan psychologically” — public support will collapse. And so it has.

Second, the president is making a mistake in assuming pulling troops out of Afghanistan will help him politically. The reason is this: if the war gets worse, if our progress in Afghanistan is undone, Obama will be judged on that. The course of the war will matter more to Americans than whether we have 105,000 troops versus 70,000 in Afghanistan in September 2012.

Whether he likes it or not, whether he thinks it’s fair or not, the president will be held accountable for the Afghanistan war and his policies. And his precipitous withdrawal, against the strong warnings of his military commanders, will come back to politically hurt him. If it does, then a measure of rough justice will have been served. But that won’t make up for the considerable damage Obama’s decision will do to our national interest.

Not by a long shot.