Over half Americans back Obama’s Quran apology to Afghans: poll
WASHINGTON: More than half of Americans support President Barack Obama’s apology for US troops burning copies of the Quran, an incident that triggered a spate of bloody protests and attacks on US soldiers in Afghanistan.
In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, 56 per cent of those surveyed backed Obama, who has been criticized by US Republican presidential candidates for apologizing to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Twenty-three per cent disagreed.
While the spasm of violence that erupted following the incident on a Nato base in Afghanistan does not appear to have significantly altered American’s perspective on the war, 66 per cent of those polled also said Washington should bring its troops home immediately.
Obama’s formal apology and the debate that decision created have underscored the delicate course the president must tread in his campaign for re-election in November.
Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues are sure to take a backseat to the economy in the campaign but Obama is loath to give Republicans more ammunition in the crucial months before the elections.
The poll, conducted from March 2 to March 5, showed that far more Democrats supported Obama’s apology, with 76 per cent of them saying Obama made the right decision.
Only 37 per cent of Republicans backed the apology, and almost half said Obama was not right to do so. Some 53 per cent of independents supported the apology.
In keeping with calls from Capitol Hill, Democrats surveyed professed even less support than Republicans for a continued US presence in Afghanistan.
Some 76 per cent of Democrats said US troops should be withdrawn immediately, compared with 53 per cent of Republicans.
Seventy per cent of independents favored an immediate withdrawal.
The poll included 1,143 Americans interviewed online. The poll had a credibility interval of 3.4 percentage points.
Obama cannot allow the outcry over the Quran incident and other Nato missteps to undermine tentative security gains, weakening his ability to point to a series of security successes such as the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, or worsen tensions with the mercurial Karzai government.
His decision received extra scrutiny when, several days later, two US officers were shot dead by an Afghan inside the Afghan Interior Ministry, one of a spate of so-called “insider” attacks on Nato forces since the Quran burnings took place.
The Quran burnings could be behind the death of up to six American soldiers.
On Monday, a suicide bomber killed at least two civilians at the gates of the base where the Qurans were burned. The Taliban said the attack was an act of “revenge.”
Underlying the debate over Obama’s apology are even larger questions about the future of US involvement in Afghanistan, where over 10 years after the Taliban government was toppled the militant group remains a potent enemy.
Obama plans to pull all of the 33,000 troops he deployed in 2009-10, credited with turning around the long-neglected campaign in Afghanistan, by this fall, leaving around 68,000 US troops. Most foreign combat troops are due to withdraw by the end of 2014.