Opinions in Iraq: One way to assess the Iraq war on the 10th anniversary of U.S. involvement is by examining the opinions of Iraqis themselves. In October, Gallup was in Iraq and asked people about five different areas. Forty-two percent of Iraqis said the security situation there was better as a result of the U.S. departure; 19% said it was worse. People there are divided evenly at 30% about whether freedom from foreign influence was better or worse after American forces withdrew. Iraqis were pessimistic about political stability (20% say it is better, 37% worse since our departure), corruption (11% better, 46% worse), and jobs (9% better, 55% worse).
Getting in: Americans made up their minds about Saddam Hussein long before the 2003 decision to go to war. In 1990, after Iraq attacked Kuwait and the United States pushed its forces back, 79% of those surveyed by CBS News wanted the United States to stay in Iraq to drive him from power. That question was asked 9 more times between 1990 and 2001, and each time large majorities said we should have continued fighting until he was removed from power. While the possible presence of weapons of mass destruction was not unimportant, the first Iraq conflict prepared the ground for American involvement in 2003.
The drums of war: Because any decision to go to war is consequential, Americans want presidents to consult fully with Congress and with our allies, working to the best of our ability to bring other nations along. The polls from 2003 show that the Bush administration met those tests. For example, 68% told Gallup/CNN/USA Today in March 2003 that the United States had done it all could to solve the crisis with Iraq diplomatically.
The course of war: Americans support military action when its purpose is clearly defined and when the prosecution of the conflict is successful. Throughout the Iraq war, Americans understood what Bush wanted to do, but they didn’t think the war was being waged successfully. The surge helped to move opinions in a more positive direction, but the level of support for the war never again reached the level it had reached in the early days.
Worth it?: CBS News changed their question after Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003. In November 2011, the last time they asked it, 41% said removing Saddam Hussein from power was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq. Fifty-percent said it was not worth it. Partisans differed dramatically, with 59% of Republicans, 32% of Democrats, and 36% of independents saying the removing Saddam was worth it. But even with those negative assessments, 55% told NBC/Wall Street Journal pollsters in January 2013 that the war had been successful.
Getting out: The way the war was waged also explains why 75% told the Pew Research Center in November 2011 that they approved of Barack Obama’s decision to remove all combat troops from Iraq.
The legacy: In October 2012, 28% of Americans told the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in October 2012 that the Iraq war had reduced threat of terrorism. The same number said it would lead to the spread of democracy in the Middle East. Seventy percent said the war had worsened America’s relations with the Muslim world.
Democracy building: Americans believe the world would be safer with more democracies. They just don’t believe that we know enough about how to achieve this goal. In a 2012 Chicago Council survey only 14% said that helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations should be a very important foreign policy goal.