By Susan Page, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Public approval of President Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan has plummeted
, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, amid rising pessimism about the course of the conflict.
The nation is divided over what to do next: Nearly half of those surveyed endorse deploying thousands of additional U.S. troops, while four in 10 say it's time to begin withdrawing forces.
His extended deliberations may be taking a toll
: 55% disapprove of the way he is handling Afghanistan and 35% approve, a reversal of his 56% approval rating four months ago.
"He's being held responsible for a deteriorating situation and relentlessly bad news
," says political scientist Richard Eichenberg of Tufts University. "But Americans continue to believe doing something about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was the right thing to do."
On a series of fronts, Obama is moving against headwinds:
• By more than 2-1
, Americans say the United States shouldn't close the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, as Obama has promised.
• A majority are against holding the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York, and nearly six in 10 say the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind should be tried in a military rather than a civilian court
When it comes to seven specific areas, Obama no longer commands majority support
on any. On only two — energy policy and global warming — does he have a net positive rating. On the economy, health care, jobs and Afghanistan, a majority disapprove of how he's doing. There's an almost even divide on his handling of terrorism: 45% approve, 47% disapprove.
Even so, his overall approval remains at 50%, about where it has been since the first week of October.
The question is whether his personal appeal will help him rally support for less popular policies, or if the public's opposition to individual policies eventually will drag down his personal approval.
On Afghanistan, a record two-thirds say things are going badly for the United States
, but six in 10 say the decision to send troops wasn't a mistake.