Pew: Majority of Americans believe Iraq, Afghanistan wars failed

posted at 8:41 am on January 31, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Not long ago, the general consensus on America’s post-9/11 wars was that they had largely achieved their goals. Osama bin Laden was dead, we’d captured most if not all of the 9/11 conspiracy leaders, and the infrastructure of al-Qaeda had been gutted. In Iraq, we had removed Saddam Hussein and set up a representative government, and eventually defeated an al-Qaeda uprising in Anbar that threatened to unravel the whole effort.

What happened? Almost as soon as we started withdrawing in Afghanistan and completed the pullout in Iraq, public sentiment shifted, according to Pew. Now the consensus is that neither war achieved its goals:

After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the public does not think the United States has achieved its goals in either country. About half of Americans (52%) say the U.S. has mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan while 38% say it has mostly succeeded. Opinions about the U.S. war in Iraq are virtually the same: 52% say the United States has mostly failed in reaching its goals there, while 37% say it has mostly succeeded.

In both cases, evaluations of the wars have turned more negative in recent years. In November 2011, as the U.S. was completing its military withdrawal from Iraq, a majority (56%) thought the U.S. had achieved its goals there.

Similarly, the public’s critical assessment of U.S. achievements in Afghanistan stands in contrast to opinion in June 2011, shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed in neighboring Pakistan. At that time, 58% answered a forward-looking question by saying they thought the U.S. would achieve its goals in that country; the question in the current survey asks whether the U.S. has achieved its goals.

This chart tracks the changing perception in Iraq:

pew-iraq

Note the huge boost in optimism in 2009, which came after George Bush and Nouri al-Maliki signed the status-of-forces agreement, and Barack Obama embraced it. At that point, everyone had more reason to invest themselves in the idea of a success in Iraq — Republicans for vindication, and Democrats for Obama’s efforts to conclude them honorably. Rather than keep forces there to guarantee success, though, Obama booted the negotiations with Maliki and ended up completely withdrawing. By 2013, it became clear that AQ had risen again in Anbar as well as across the border in Syria in the vacuum, and by now it’s more apparent than ever that the region is falling into chaos.

For a demonstration of the partisan ebb and flow, here’s chart #2 from Pew:

pew-iraq-partisan

At the time of our failure to extend our presence in Iraq, there was a broad, non-partisan consensus of success there. Less than three years later, the broad non-partisan consensus remains, but it’s now on failure.

Similarly, a broad consensus existed for success for Afghanistan at the same time, and has dissipated entirely by now. Only a slight majority — 51/41 — think we made the right decision to use force in Afghanistan, even though the Taliban sheltered al-Qaeda and its leadership before and after 9/11. Eight years ago, 69% of Americans backed that decision, more than four years into the war. Republicans, it should be noted, still back the use of force in both theaters by majorities, even though only 38% overall now back the use of force in Iraq.

Again, what happened? What we are seeing in these numbers is the cold calculation of retrospection rather than the principled position of theory. Iraq is now under siege, and Afghanistan is so bad that even the roads we thought would rescue it from the Stone Age are becoming a public danger. We poured American blood and treasure into these theaters for years, only to see Afghanistan make virtually no progress at all and Iraq struggling to remain upright on its own. In ten years, if both countries make significant progress, these evaluations may change again. For now, though, they look like rational assessments of the overall results — and perhaps an object lesson on the limits of intervention and nation-building.


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As intended by the Administration.

Steve Eggleston on January 31, 2014 at 8:43 AM

The solution for these countries was to conqueror them without mercy and install a US lead government. Instead we offered billions and sacrificed thousands on the alter of political correctness. We lost both wars for the same reason we lost Nam. The direction and ROE were set by the anti-war liberals.

Dr. Frank Enstine on January 31, 2014 at 8:47 AM

Not surprising when leftist idiots tuck tail and run.

John the Libertarian on January 31, 2014 at 8:48 AM

I wonder what Japan and Germany would have looked like today had we pulled troops out and left both to pick up the pieces on their own.

Curmudgeon on January 31, 2014 at 8:48 AM

For now, though, they look like rational assessments of the overall results — and perhaps an object lesson on the limits of intervention and nation-building.

You neglect the fact that for the past five years, the wars have been/were directed by a coward who had no commitment to doing anything but getting the hell out as quickly as possible. How many American soldiers were slaughtered because their “commander” was only interested in the political aspects of engagement?

75% of the casualties in Afghanistan were under Obama’s tenure and we find out that he never EVER wanted to do anything but cut and run. That is a far more worthy topic than Pew polling.

Happy Nomad on January 31, 2014 at 8:49 AM

Iraq and Afghanistan did fail. A COIN (counterinsurgency) strategy has a number of requirements to work, the first one is that you have to be an interested party and plan to stay there indefinitely (French in Algeria as a colony or otherwise, according to COIN experts who’s books are legion, 20-30 years). Then you have to have enough people on the ground to secure the borders (so you don’t have an unlimited supply of fighters, weapons, munitions, etc, rolling in on a daily basis) and all the towns, cities, villages. There’s a laundry list of requirements, and this is the wrong forum for an essay, however, we did nothing required in order to win a COIN fight. We came with the intention of leaving, and we never had the troops control the ground…technology and airpower is fine, but it doesn’t hold the ground.

John_G on January 31, 2014 at 8:51 AM

My opinion (and those of everyone I talk to) is much broader. I think everything this country has been a part of in any way for the last 5 years has failed.

Based upon that experience, I predict that the next 3 years will only bring more of the same.

Tom Servo on January 31, 2014 at 8:53 AM

I bet this isn’t Obama’s fault either.

NotCoach on January 31, 2014 at 8:54 AM

+1 Steve

cmsinaz on January 31, 2014 at 8:57 AM

The lessons from Veitnam were not learned.

Skwor on January 31, 2014 at 8:58 AM

Yepper Notcoach… no blame on Obama

cmsinaz on January 31, 2014 at 8:59 AM

Denial of the true nature of islam on the part of our government and State Department.

vityas on January 31, 2014 at 9:03 AM

Funny it doesn’t seem all that long ago when some folks were screeching, “What are we even doing there? Whats the goal? What’s the exit strategy? Who do we support? You’re doing it all wrong!” Turn the page, now they all are so certain it was a failure. What was a failure?!?!

Bmore on January 31, 2014 at 9:07 AM

The lessons from Veitnam were not learned.

Skwor on January 31, 2014 at 8:58 AM

To the contrary. They were learned, but by our nation’s internal enemies.

Bush left Otraitor with a hard won victory in Iraq and unfinished but winnable situation in Afghanistan.

Barry the Crypto-Muslim wanted nothing of American victory, never did, never will.

He set in motion the circumstances and events that would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and in so doing sentenced hundreds of our best and brightest to their needless deaths.

Who knows what price will be paid for his malfeasance in the future.

turfmann on January 31, 2014 at 9:16 AM

Having to ask permission all the way up to SecDef to so much as fire one artillery round against a moving target has a way of negating whatever tactical advantage you might have had.

Bishop on January 31, 2014 at 9:20 AM

For now, though, they look like rational assessments of the overall results — and perhaps an object lesson on the limits of intervention and nation-building.

Resisting the urge to say: “We told you so”.

That said, I’m no pollyanna about these things. When we first went into Iraq, I had assumed that we would go in, remove the Husseins and the Baathists from power, and move as quickly as possible to install the INC or some other such “puppet”, give them all the hardware and money and free rein to do what had to be done to bring order to a naturally chaotic place.

At what point, exactly, did the goal fantasy of democratizing the Middle East rear its ugly head…?

JohnGalt23 on January 31, 2014 at 9:21 AM

I wonder what Japan and Germany would have looked like today had we pulled troops out and left both to pick up the pieces on their own.

Curmudgeon on January 31, 2014 at 8:48 AM

I think you have teh cause and effect a bit confused.

We bombed Japan, and the Ruskies bombed Germany especially, flat as a pancake. There was virtually nothing for a counter insurgency to run on. Had we done the same to Iraq, it’s likely we would have never faced the domestic rebels, and probably not even AQ regulars.

But the American people have no stomach for doing that to another nation that has not struck us first…

JohnGalt23 on January 31, 2014 at 9:25 AM

When the CiC doesn’t care about foreign policy in the slightest, thinks it a distraction to the (failed) domestic policies he’s implementing, of course the missions will go south.

thebrokenrattle on January 31, 2014 at 9:26 AM

I think you have teh cause and effect a bit confused.

We bombed Japan, and the Ruskies bombed Germany especially, flat as a pancake. There was virtually nothing for a counter insurgency to run on. Had we done the same to Iraq, it’s likely we would have never faced the domestic rebels, and probably not even AQ regulars.

But the American people have no stomach for doing that to another nation that has not struck us first…

JohnGalt23 on January 31, 2014 at 9:25 AM

The Russians only flattened what became Poland and East Germany, with a “bit” of help around Berlin from the USAAF and the RAF. We and the Brits flattened the rest of Germany.

Steve Eggleston on January 31, 2014 at 9:29 AM

we didn’t go to war. if we did, and treated it as such, this would not be an issue.
but since korea our policy has been fight to a draw and expend as much soldier blood as needed with stupid ROE and policies.
want to win a war?
give the troops a mission and let them go.

dmacleo on January 31, 2014 at 9:32 AM

Thanks to the clusterfark at the top. Thanks to the rules of engagement our warriors had to put up with and the mismanagement of assets by some of the bozos running the ops. See Lone Survivor.

crosshugger on January 31, 2014 at 9:35 AM

and then hotair will run out of material to bash the President on…that’s what you’re really afraid of, right?

nonpartisan on November 19, 2013 at 4:47 PM

Chris of Rights on January 31, 2014 at 9:49 AM

I have no illusions about some non-political golden age in America, where leaders cared only about what was best for the country. But, in terms of war and foreign policy, the fact is that there used to be more consensus, and if an administration began a policy, it could to some degree count on following administrations to see it through, or at least not precipitously abandon it. Those days are past. That’s why, in this climate, I have become very skeptical about foreign wars and interventions, even those that seem to have merit. One administration can commit to an expenditure of blood and treasure, and the minute something goes wrong (as something always does), the next administration will make political hay and essentially assure that a lot of young Americans have died in vain. With this kind of governance, better to play small-ball, and keep our military at home.

SacredFire on January 31, 2014 at 9:50 AM

They have failed and it is not all Obama’s fault. The day Bush let Al Sadr walk free was the day that war in Iraq was lost, that combined with allowing them to have a constitution based on islamist priciples.

As for Afghanistan, Bush also messed that up as much as Obama… we were never going to make that a civil place, all we could do was destroy as many bad guys as possible and Bush and Obama both balked at that.

georgealbert on January 31, 2014 at 9:53 AM

Just curious-why is this poll coming out now?

Del Dolemonte on January 31, 2014 at 9:54 AM

Call it the “Obama Effect”.
Everything he touches turns to sh*t.

albill on January 31, 2014 at 10:13 AM

Oh please. Americans are stupid, ill informed, fickle twits. We will be back to thinking we won when ISIS is out of Anbar and the next Afghan elections happen and Karzai is replaced.

sheikh of thornton on January 31, 2014 at 10:18 AM

what do they expect? This administration has been all about how both of those should fail. We didn’t leave Germany and Japan five years after we took over. Why would anyone expect it to be a success without long term commitment?

Dannic on January 31, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Bwahahahahahahahahahaha we couldn’t beat a couple of pizzed off Afghan goat herders with ak’s …I know…. lets start a war with Iran & Syria….. hey ….. we can even take on the Chinese… huh

roflmmfao

donabernathy on January 31, 2014 at 10:40 AM

They did. Every drop of blood and every dollar were wasted, mainly by obama.

Schadenfreude on January 31, 2014 at 12:17 PM

Two words: Paul Bremer … wrong person at the wrong time making the wrong decisions giving the wrong directions.
Note that King Putt using assets set up and configured during the Bush administration accomplished the demise of OBL. Even though it took Lil’Bammy nearly NINE months to give the shooters the green light he will make sure (with plenty of support from the Presstitutes) that he is not held responsible for the disasters that will befall both Afghanistan and Iraq.
That said, it has been my opinion that use of the American military power be used judiciously.
As evidenced in every conflict since WWII it has been totally misused.
Here are the simple steps to use our military power:
Politically you define what you want (and you may not CHANGE YOUR MIND).
You ask the military what they need to accomplish WHAT YOU WANT.
You give them WHAT THEY WANT.
Then you WIND THEM UP … and GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY.
It will work EVERY TIME.

Missilengr on January 31, 2014 at 12:37 PM

In the future, I sincerely hope that when necessary wars are fought with enemies that are basically primitive savages, that the rules governing such combat are then determined by the actions of the enemy, not the military etiquette of a modern civilized state.

IOW, if they behave like savages and follow no rules, then they are treated like savages, and not according to the dilettantes inhabiting political parlors like the Oval Office.

dockywocky on January 31, 2014 at 12:46 PM

But the American people have no stomach for doing that to another nation that has not struck us first…

They don’t have the stomach to do that to anyone for any reason ever. Modern Americans don’t understand war, period. And I’m starting to seriously doubt they can be trusted with the responsibility of deciding when to begin and end a war at all. When more than half the country wants to ask, “well what does winning mean anyway” with a smartass smirk on their face, there isn’t going to be any reasoned, adult discussion about objectives and roadmaps to victory. Not when the very existence of victory as a concrete objective is up for discussion.

Winning in war means no one is left who wants to fight you. If you wage a war, you keep waging it until that happens. If you don’t have the determination and ruthlessness to do that, then don’t start a war. I guarantee you, there will be more attacks on American soil, within a decade. Bigger than Boston, probably smaller than 9/11, but they’ll happen. Because our misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have just taught the enemy they can wait us out, and wait for the media and Democrats (but I repeat myself) to lie, whine, caterwaul, and blame any attacks on our inability to UNDERSTAND the people who want to horribly kill us. Eventually we’ll erode our own will to resist and then they can come back and kill us again.

Never in my life did I think I’d see the day that I’d be disgusted by my own country.

Zoomie on January 31, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Afghanistan is obvious, but I think we should look into Iraq again, because some elements of the GOP still don’t get it.

There was no strategic reason to get involved there. Note: Please don’t say WMDs, Pakistan has nukes and they backed the Taliban and A-Qaeda, not to mention Bin Laden was killed there in a safe house probably run by members of the Pakistani intelligence, and we did not invade them, or even bomb them.

The real reason we invaded Iraq, was not WMDs, but Bush and his people thought they could bring democracy to the Islamic world and therefore make the place more hospitable to Americans. It was a strategic blunder of epic proportions. Not only was the main goal not achievable, but we failed to notice the majority of the population was Shia, in other words probably pro-Iranian.

We also failed to notice that Iraq, the country, is a made up British invention that was created after WWI, which did not take ethnicity or religion into account when creating the country (Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds, and more). This is something we Americans never understand, that the rest of the world is not like America. Most countries are ethnic based or religious based, etc. It is not easy creating another “America” in another part of the world.

To create an “America” in Iraq you would probably have to keep a large American military force there for a long time, maybe 50-100 years. You would have to force the Shia and Sunni to live with each other in peace, get them both to stop hating infidels, make Arabs and Kurds like each other while keeping the Kurds from starting wars with the Turks, and to top it all off keep Iran and Sunni Jihadist out of the place.

Oh that does not even get to the part of teaching them separation of religion and state, equal treatment of women under the law, and basic concepts of democratic / republican styles of government. I also forgot the industrial revolution, and modern civilization in general. There is a reason why strong men and kings have run the area practically forever.

We did not lose the war because of Obama, as much as I wish that were so, we did not lose the war because of the media, as much as I wish that were so, we lost the war because our definition of victory was not obtainable politically at home (who wants to stay in Iraq for 50 years!), and was not obtainable using the strategies we were using in Iraq (you have to kill a lot people to win and before you nationbuild).

Certain people in the GOP need to learn there is a difference between being a hawk and supporter of a strong U.S. military, and coming up with idiotic schemes to transform the Muslim world into Japan and Germany. They are not the same…not even close. To me that is not being a hawk, that is being a dodo bird.

William Eaton on January 31, 2014 at 2:08 PM