WASHINGTON – Three in four Americans think history will judge the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as failures, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows that about the same percentage think it was right to pull forces from the two countries.
Americans surveyed in last month’s poll were not optimistic about a stable democratic government being established in either country. Seventy-eight percent said it was either not too likely or not at all likely in Afghanistan and 80 percent said the same about Iraq.
Roughly three out of four Americans polled think that, in hindsight, each war will be deemed a “complete failure” or “more of a failure than success.”
A majority of those polled, at 70 percent, said the United States was right to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011 and pull most U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by December. The two conflicts have consumed the nation for more than a decade and claimed the lives of 6,800 U.S. troops.
Nelson Philip, 73, of Oswego, Illinois, is of two minds. He judges the Afghan war a failure, but wants U.S. troops to stay in countries still in turmoil.
The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are distinct. But, in each, the U.S. has spent more than a decade trying to set up democratic governments that could effectively police their own territories and stamp out threats to the American homeland. And in both countries their futures are threatened by a combination of poor leadership, weak institutions, interethnic rivalry, insurgencies and extremist rebellions.
Americans surveyed in the poll think more bad news is on the horizon.
Fifty percent – up 18 points in the past seven months – think the situation in Afghanistan will get worse. Fifty-eight percent – up from 16 percent in December 2009 – expect conditions in Iraq will worsen. The poll was conducted shortly after Sunni extremists conducted an offensive that shattered security in Iraq.
The rapid advance by the extremist Islamic State group, which captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and overran much of northern and western Iraq, has plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011.
People over 50 expressed far more pessimism about the ultimate outcome of the two conflicts than their younger counterparts.
Sixty-two percent of those over 50 said the situation in Afghanistan would get worse in the coming year, compared with 40 percent of younger Americans. On Iraq, that gap is even larger, with 72 percent age 50 or older expecting things to get worse compared with 47 percent of those under age 50.
Older Americans are also more likely to think the U.S. war in Afghanistan will be judged a failure in the future; 86 percent of those 50 or older feel that way, compared with 64 percent among those under age 50. They are also more likely to doubt that a stable democratic government will be established there; 88 percent age 50 or older say it’s unlikely to happen compared with 70 percent age 18 to 49.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.