Obama Finds A Better Audience
It's reasonably safe to say that the President's Afghanistan speech on Tuesday night did not exactly get rave reviews from opinion-leaders. Many progressives are flatly opposed to his approach, and others are troubled by the similarity of his rationale for a "surge" to that made by George W. Bush in Iraq. Even some who support his strategy for Afghanistan were underwhelmed by his explanation of it. Meanwhile, most conservatives savaged him for identifying a rough timetable for withdrawal of troops, or for failing to "admit" he was taking a course in Afghanistan that he opposed for Iraq (as though the two countries were the same).
In any event, it's good news for the White House that the public seemed to have liked his speech more than the "experts." A USAToday Gallup poll released today shows that Americans favor Obama's strategy for Afghanistan by a 51%-41% margin--pretty impressive given the previous measurements of public opinion that showed consistent majorities opposing new troops and generally getting tired of that war. Interestingly, 56% of self-identified Republicans and 58% of self-identified Democrats support Obama's strategy (indies split 45% positive and 44% negative), undoubtedly the first time in his administration that the president has achieved strongly bipartisan support.
The most lopsided finding in the poll was that respondents opposed the idea of a "war surtax" by a 68%-24% margin. No wonder Obama didn't embrace it in his speech.
In any event, the President, as intended, seems to have bought some time for his approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's not to say that he won't have some strong resistance in and out of Congress from elements of both parties--progressives because they disagree strongly with his decision to continue and (at least temporarily) escalate the war, conservatives because they wish him ill. But it appears the president's speech served its purpose, and found its audience.
UPDATE: New polls from CNN and even Rasmussen also show a pretty good positive impact from Obama's speech. According to CNN, the new troop commitment to Afghanistan is supported by a 62%-36% margin (even though a narrow majority opposes the war itself). Interestingly enough, the poll also shows 66% favoring "Obama's plan" to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by 2011. Rasmussen has respondents favoring the new troop commitment by a margin of 53%-30%, but the numbers for overall support for "Obama's new plan for Afghanistan" are 37% support and 38% oppose.