Today, the conflict in Afghanistan enters its second decade; more than a year ago it surpassed Vietnam as America's longest war.
According to a recent CBS poll, 34 percent of the American public thinks that U.S. troops should continue to fight the war in Afghanistan and 57 percent thinks the U.S. should no longer be involved. That's in stark contrast to a November 2001 Gallup poll that found 91 percent public approval for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, Americans also thought the deployment would be short. In December 2001, 47 percent told Gallup they thought the fighting would last for just a few months; only 15 percent thought it would be more than two years.
The war in Afghanistan seemed much simpler a decade ago. From the Treaty Room of the White House on Oct. 7, 2001, President Bush stated: "To all the men and women in our military … I say this: Your mission is defined; your objectives are clear; your goal is just. You have my full confidence, and you will have every tool you need to carry out your duty."
But it turns out the U.S. mission didn't have everything it needed. The Defense Department spent $20 billion on the war in its first year; the State Department spent less than $1 billion. In 2003, the Bush administration, assuming the Taliban was severely weakened, decreased overall spending by 29 percent.
Early success in Afghanistan was just a veneer. As the Taliban returned and Afghanistan's deep complexities surfaced, policy makers scrambled to revise their strategy and steadily increased funding, capping it at $59.5 billion in the final year of the Bush administration. In Dec. 2009, President Obama said that for eight years the war had largely been neglected, but that it remained essential to U.S. national security interests. He heightened spending on Afghanistan to $118.5 billion and the troop level to almost 100,000. Simultaneously, as the war became more vivid and casualties increased, public support has eroded.
In the recent CBS poll, 69 percent of Americans responded that they had no idea U.S. involvement in Afghanistan would last this long. Considering the way the war was originally imagined and sold, it's hard to blame the public for thinking otherwise.
(Katherine Brown is on the staff of Bloomberg View.)