Panetta: War Strategy Can’t Be Guided by Polls as Survey Shows Most Americans Oppose War
The war in Afghanistan can’t be determined by polls, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday, asserting that the U.S. must continue with its strategy in the decade-old conflict despite plummeting American confidence in the war.
Panetta said that there is no question that the American people are tired of war. But, he said, the public understands the U.S. is engaged in Afghanistan because of the attacks on Sept. 11, and to prevent al-Qaida from again finding safe havens there to launch attacks.
“We cannot fight wars by polls. If we do that we’re in deep trouble,” Panetta told reporters at a press conference after a day of meetings with Canadian and Mexican defense ministers here. “We have to operate based on what we believe is the best strategy to achieve the mission that we are embarked on. And the mission here is to safeguard our country by insuring that the Taliban and al-Qaida never again find a safe haven in Afghanistan.”
A New York Times/CBS News poll found that 69 percent of those questioned believe the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan, and roughly the same amount say the fighting is going either somewhat or very badly. The numbers are up sharply from four months ago, when a bit more than half said the U.S. should not be at war in Afghanistan.
The survey reflects a growing frustration among the public and on Capitol Hill with the war, even as the Obama administration tries to map out an exit strategy that would shift the security lead to the Afghans by mid-2013.
Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay was even more blunt about the poll, saying that as one prime minister of Canada put it: “Polls are for dogs.”
“This is our generation’s war, this is a test of perseverance,” said MacKay, whose country has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, largely doing training. “Our ability to carry through for the long-term security of not just Afghanistan but the region and also the entire world, so there is a lot at stake. Canada will be there with our NATO partners.”
Panetta said that a lot of lives have been lost in the war, and “our commitment must be to insure that those lives have not been lost in vain.” He said that he and his military commanders are convinced that 2011 was a turning point in the war and that the levels of violence are declining.
Panetta was in Ottawa to meet with his defense counterparts, in what U.S. officials hope will be a continuing effort to address shared security threats, including drug trafficking, cyber breaches and border issues.