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Everyone has an opinion on Afghanistan – do voters care?

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On the 15th of August Taliban fighters roll into Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. They met little resistance. Within a few hours, the Taliban had taken control of the city. The airport was in chaos as thousands of Afghans sought refuge with departing American personnel.

In February 2020, the Trump administration signed a peace agreement calling for the withdrawal of American troops, but it is President BidenJoe BidenTapper urges Biden’s top aide to Afghanistan: “How are you going to get these Americans out?” Overnight Defense and National Security: War Ends, But Pointers Still On The Money – Companies Consider Making Unvaccinated Workers Pay MORE who ultimately pushed and finished what he called “America’s longest war”. “Already now, with the Taliban in Kabul, Biden remains defiant and defends his decision. Democrats fear this will hurt Biden politically, and Republicans are doing their best to make sure that is the case.

but previous research suggests the opposite.

Americans do not give foreign policy a priority when voting

International relations scholars have long argued that Voters punish presidents who Withdrawal from confrontations with foreign opponentsas this could damage the US reputation abroad. But the extent of the impact on the presidential approval depends on whether Democrats or Republicans are in power, the composition of the presidential constituency, and the persuasiveness of the reason for the withdrawal.

Indeed, as my own research has shown, the actual behavior of the president in a crisis may not matter at all. Ultimately, it is important to voters whether a president makes the right political decisions, not whether American troops remain stationed overseas to protect their reputation.

In addition, Americans are far more interested in domestic political issues such as health or the economy than in foreign policy. For example also as Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHouse Democrats Offer Amendment To Limit Handover Of Military Equipment To Police Create US Hostages, Deserting Afghan Allies Feehery: Seize Radical Center MORE the opposition against the Iraq war rode to an election victory in 2008, more than five times as many participants in the American National Elections Survey (ANES) called the economy the nation’s most important problem compared to war.

Military interventions are unpopular with voters

We tend to have wars with “Rally-for-the-flag“Effects in which conflicts lead to increases in the popularity of presidents and their parties. Such effects may have been true during World War II, but 21NS Century military interventions are lengthy affairs – and political losers.

This is because of what I identified past research as a temporal inconsistency between the costs and benefits of military interventions. While the costs of the intervention are immediate, both in the form of money and in the form of human lives, it takes decades, sometimes even generations, for the benefits of the intervention to bear fruit at best.

For campaigning politicians, it means there is no incentive to prepay the cost of the war when you may never see the benefits. In researching troop contributions to the war in Afghanistan, I found that participants in the war effort – including the United States – withdrew around 10 percent of their armed forces when they stood for re-election.

The politics of the US victims

Voters care deeply about the loss of American lives. While images from Kabul evoke memories of Saigon and the withdrawal from Vietnam, the more accurate comparisons are the capture and failed rescue of US hostages in Tehran after the Iranian revolution in 1979 or the attacks on the Benghazi embassy in Libya in 2011.

Both the hostage-taking in Iran and Benghazi had a negative impact on the perception of two presidential candidates. Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterHow many voters will stay with Biden? Military Failures That Presidents Survived – And Some That Didn’t. Meghan McCain railed against Biden over Afghanistan, calling him “Jimmy Carter on Acid” MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton Biden allies say the media is missing the mark in Afghanistan Pollers face a difficult polling landscape after the flubs in 2020 We are turning our backs on the lives we changed in Afghanistan for MORE, or Biden’s ability to avoid the political fallout may depend on all Americans being evacuated safely.

Unfortunately, this political calculation suggests that there may be little room for humanitarian evacuations and relocations of refugees. While Biden promised to bring home all captured Americans, there may simply not be much political incentive to evacuate Afghan refugees – especially if it puts American lives at risk.

Plus, taking in refugees means finding areas in the US that are ready to relocate them. Conservative media commentators have already taken up the issue, and a prominent expert warned viewers that they “penetrated“By Afghan refugees.

Biden’s political calculation

Voters are not closely concerned with current events, frequently try to avoid politics all in all. Humanitarian disasters are quickly disappearing from the headlines. Note that less than a week after the Taliban overtook Kabul, news from Afghanistan did not make the front page of newspapers in several major cities.

On the other hand, said the potential cost of staying in Afghanistan would be enormous. Right now, President Biden is focused on getting Congress to pass a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill and a $ 3.5 trillion budget balancing bill, which together make up much of his agenda for the first term would. Given the importance of these domestic issues to voters in relation to foreign policy, the passing of the bills by Congress will be politically most important to Biden.

Corresponding Estimates, The war in Afghanistan alone has already cost American taxpayers more than $ 2.2 trillion. Concerns about the combined price of the Democrats’ legislative agenda have raised concerns about federal spending and inflation. More spending on Afghanistan would make Biden and his Democrats even more vulnerable to such attacks.

The tight margins in Congress suggest that Biden will need to reserve his political capital to maintain the existing coalitions to pass these two bills, and not a new war effort. This would also give the Democrats the best chance of maintaining control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.

William G. Nomikos is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis and Director of the Data-driven analysis of the peace project. He is currently working on a book on international military intervention called Local Peace, International Builders. Follow him on Twitter @wnomikos.

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