For First Time Ever, America Thinks Afghan War Was a ‘Mistake’

It took the country 12 years to lose confidence in America’s longest war.

Soldiers with the United States Army's 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment are seen on a joint patrol with the Afghan National Army prepare for a joint patrol with near Command Outpost Siah Choy on March 28, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Zhari District, Afghanistan.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Feb. 19, 2014, 2:53 a.m.

A plur­al­ity of Amer­ic­ans now be­lieves that it was a mis­take to send sol­diers to fight in Afgh­anistan after the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, mark­ing the first time in the war’s his­tory that few­er Amer­ic­ans sup­por­ted the com­bat ef­fort than op­posed it.

Forty-nine per­cent of Amer­ic­ans now be­lieve the war was not ours to fight, ac­cord­ing to a new Gal­lup Poll, com­pared with 48 per­cent who still be­lieve chas­ing the coun­try’s Qaida cells was the right thing to do. The mar­gin is slight, but it marks a steep de­cline in those fa­vor­ing the in­ter­ven­tion over the years, which once re­gistered at a high of 93 per­cent in early 2002.

But it has taken Amer­ic­ans longer to turn on its longest war than any oth­er fought since the Korean War. It took the coun­try only six months to sour on that cam­paign, in part due to Chinese in­ter­ven­tion in North Korea that helped cre­ate a quag­mire.

Sim­il­arly, Amer­ic­ans turned against the Vi­et­nam War re­l­at­ively quickly. About a quarter of Amer­ic­ans told Gal­lup they op­posed what Lyn­don John­son once dubbed “that bitch of a war” when the polling ser­vice first gauged pub­lic opin­ion in the early sum­mer of 1965, while six in 10 sup­por­ted it. By Oc­to­ber 1967, 47 per­cent saw in­volve­ment there as a mis­take, com­pared with 44 per­cent who sup­por­ted it.

Re­mem­ber Ir­aq? Just 15 months passed from the start of that war in March 2003 be­fore a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans—54 per­cent—viewed it as a mis­take.

Part of the reas­on why it took so long for Amer­ic­ans to de­vel­op neg­at­ive views of the war in Afgh­anistan is be­cause so few op­posed it at the out­set. When the war star­ted in those early, post-9/11 days, only 9 per­cent thought mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion was a mis­take. Between one in five and a quarter of Amer­ic­ans op­posed the na­tion’s oth­er mod­ern wars when they began.

The res­ults are sure to rile de­fense hawks like Sen. John Mc­Cain, an Ari­zona Re­pub­lic­an, who has ex­pressed con­cern that the U.S. is turn­ing in­ward and shirk­ing its ex­cep­tion­al­ist­ic du­ties as an in­ter­na­tion­al force for good and demo­crat­ic or­der.

By a large mar­gin, Demo­crats and “Demo­crat­ic lean­ers” are more likely to view the Afghan War as a mis­take. Fifty-nine per­cent now say put­ting troops on the ground in 2001 was wrong. Just 36 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans think so.

Gal­lup’s tele­phone in­ter­views were con­duc­ted from Feb. 6-9 among a ran­dom sample of 1,023 adults. The poll’s mar­gin of er­ror was plus or minus 4 per­cent­age points.

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