Anyone who happened to stumble upon CNN on Sunday night was treated to a convoy of Afghan pitches, notably from Senators Carl Levin and Lindsey Graham. As they blasted Wikileaks and voiced optimism for the war, one might be absolved for believing Afghanistan has finally become a relevant topic in America. This doesn’t seem to be the case though.
These were one-sided commercials selling Afghanistan. CNN ran a story the same day claiming Midterms put focus on Afghanistan, but it should know better that Afghanistan remains a distant 5th on the minds of US voters. CNN's coverage of its own headlined with the economy and immigration, with Afghanistan down at the bottom as usual.
Of course past polling has indicated enthusiasm levels near 5%, so maybe 8% does represent a permanent attention shift. But if the economy and unemployment don’t improve at the rate people expect, 47% could quickly breach 50% and continue upward. This may apply even more pressure to President Barack Obama’s July 2011 transfer deadline, or the US public may simply be overwhelmed and lose focus.
And while a lack of support kept Obama from going all in, he had plenty of capital to launch a mission that many doubt can be accomplished, his campaign promises of a wider war misinterpreted or ignored. US Congress passed its Afghan war bill soon after Wikileaks. Elsewhere Iraq has been forgotten as an issue except for the random bad news. Somalia hosts more al-Qaeda operatives than Afghanistan but remains completely off the radar. Perceptions can be extremely fickle.
CNN reports, “The Obama administration has made clear some troops - no one can say how many - will start withdrawing by next July from stable areas where Afghan forces can provide security.”
We predicted zero months ago, give or take a thousand. Maybe that’s the only way Afghanistan will receive the attention it deserves. Kandahar, Wikileaks, Pakistan, and an evaporating deadline don’t appear to be waking the masses. Yet.
Afghanistan won’t be a key issue in 2010, but 2012 is another story.