Poll: 60% Of Americans Say Iraq War Wasn’t Worth Fighting

Ten years after it began, a majority of Americans say that the Iraq War was not worth fighting according to a new poll:

Ten years after U.S. airstrikes on Baghdad punctuated the start of the Iraq war, nearly six in 10 Americans say the war was not worth fighting – a judgment shared by majorities steadily since initial success gave way to years of continued conflict.

Nearly as many in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the same about the war in Afghanistan. And while criticisms of both wars are down from their peaks, the intensity of sentiment remains high, with strong critics far outweighing strong supporters.

A key reason: A substantial sense that neither war did much to achieve their goals of enhancing U.S. security. Only about half of Americans say either war contributed to the long-term security of the United States, and just two in 10 say either contributed “a great deal” to U.S. security – clearly insufficient, in the minds of most, to justify their costs in lives and lucre.

WORTH IT? – As such, 58 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, say that considering its costs vs. its benefits the war in Iraq was not worth fighting; 56 percent say the same about the war in Afghanistan.

These results are dramatically different than they were when the wars began long ago. The war in Iraq, a few weeks after its start on March 20, 2003, was supported by 80 percent of Americans; in Afghanistan, in late 2001, support exceeded 90 percent. In neither case, it seems, did the public expect conflicts as long, as complicated and as costly as ultimately transpired.

Similarly, at the time of the fall of Baghdad at the end of April 2003, 70 percent of Americans described the Iraq war as worth fighting – nearly twice as many as do so today.

This isn’t entirely surprising, of course. By the time the last American troops pulled out in 2011, the general consensus among the public was that the war had been an abject failure notwithstanding the fact that we had deposed Saddam Hussein. After that, though, we let the situation spiral out of control due in no small part that nobody in the Bush Administration bothered to do any planning for the post-Saddam Iraq, while those who did, such as Eric Shinseki, were derided and pushed aside. Indeed, at this point the only people who still believe in Iraq War can be found in the Republican Party.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Public Opinion Polls, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    This reminds me of those painful days, early when the war, when reporters would go out to interview grieving parents, and ask “was you son’s sacrifice worth it?” From there to visit a politician, to ask “are more lives justified?”

    Everyone said, yes, to honor the fallen we must keep fighting.

    Some of us knew how human and tragic that was at the time, and some of us even expected this swing in sentiment. Knowing it was coming only made those times sadder.

  2. edmondo says:

    Sleep well tonight, George W. Bush. May you burn in Hell.

  3. anjin-san says:

    The war will end up costing six trillion dollars. Meanwhile, we don’t have money for schools, cops, roads, health care, etc.

    But Cheney’s pals made out like bandits, so the war was at least a partial success.

  4. Scott says:

    Ten years back, there were people who were patting themselves on the back claiming we finally got over the Vietnam War Syndrome. Too bad we got over that. Of course, there are folks who still claim we could’ve won the Vietnam War (whatever winning means in that horrible context) and blame everybody except those who got us into that war by mischaracterizing what that conflict was all about.

    Unfortunately, memories dim over time and I fear we will have another misadventure in 20 years or so.

  5. John Peabody says:

    If you asked “Was WWII worth it?” you probably wouldn’t get an 80% approval rating.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Too bad more Americans didn’t oppose it in 2001 and 2002.

    A majority of Democratic Senators and all Republican Senators except one voted in favor of invading Iraq. We’ve now had two consecutive Secretaries of State who voted in favor of invading Iraq.

  7. john personna says:

    @John Peabody:

    I think history is correct that Pearl Harbor united the country, and that many fewer than 20% would have taken that without going to war.

  8. john personna says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I lost a faith that democracies were “mostly right” in those days. I learned that they are often wrong, but that their real strength is that they are self-correcting, if only in the long run.

    You many not like those who pretend they were never for Iraq, but they were able to make that shift without bloody revolution. That is something.

  9. john personna says:

    (I also refused to vote Republican for the next ten years because I thought the Bush administration really did subvert the democracy to score those numbers in support of the war.

    The first principle in a democracy must be to honor the democracy. If you lose that, you lose everything.)

  10. C. Clavin says:

    “…Indeed, at this point the only people who still believe in Iraq War can be found in the Republican Party…”

    Of course they also believe the universe is 4000 years old, evolution is a hoax, tax cuts pay for themselves, and a host of other crap that is just total f’ing nonsense.
    Me and a couple hundred thousand of my closest friends marched in protest of the coming invasion of Iraq…and everyone thought we were the fools.

  11. Tsar Nicholas says:

    I have to say that I agree with the majority of Zombieland on this one, although likely if not quite probably for very different reasons.

    The war made sense. Saddam had to get gone.

    But the planning for the war was horrific (it was obvious from the get-go they had waaaay too few troops), the planning for the aftermath was numbingly horrific (they actually bought into the Rumsfeld-Weekly Standard-National Review fantasy), they waited three years too long to clue into patently-obviously realities (we needed more troops and to take the gloves off), they were too concerned about being PC with respect to the costs of the whole affair (we should have had the Iraqis paying us royalties directly from their oil revenues, after their oil industry got back online), and then, in the irony of all ironies, after AQI had been all but eviscerated, Team Obama pulled out and left the country in the lurch.

    So it’s been a tragicomedy of errors. Nearly in every instance because we weren’t sufficiently ruthless.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    It’s important to ask why the Bush administration did not plan for the occupation. I believe it was magical thinking which pervades the Republican party. If you believe that man in his natural state loves liberty and free markets and that the only impediment to liberty is government, you don’t need to plan because capitalism is magic and that magic will solve all problems.

    If you believe that man in his natural state is a mix of good and evil, and that institutions can elevate one and restrain the other, you plan. Liberal presidents ran the occupations of Japan and Germany. They pushed disarmament, strong central governments and trade unions — liberalism. A conservative ran the occupation of Iraq which was criminally under-resourced, philosophically immature and historically illiterate. The result was exactly what you’d expect: sectarian violence and widespread looting, including looting by American companies of both the Iraqi and American treasuries.

    Oh and a bunch of dead Iraqis and Americans. Trillions of dollars wasted. A strengthening of Iran. Other than that, though, great job.

  13. john personna says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Sorry, you cannot say “Saddam had to get gone. But the planning for the war was horrific.”

    The decision to get him gone, and the outcome, are not actually seperable.

    The ONLY thing keeping a lid on Sunni and Shiite violence was just that kind of despotic rule.

    To think otherwise is to make GWB’s mistake, and to think that removing Saddam would automatically mean a flowering of progressive civil society.

  14. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The interesting thing is that this is a flip on the classic conservative vs liberal argument on crime and punishment. Conservatives were thought to be “tough on crime” because they thought that some minimum was unavoidable, that people are not perfectible, and that bad behavior must be suppressed. It was the liberals who thought everyone could be redeemed, and rehabilitated, that punishment was a missed opportunity.

  15. C. Clavin says:

    “…The war made sense….”

    Of course it did…to you. Which makes sense.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    “…Saddam had to get gone…”

    And that only cost us $2T +.

  17. al-Ameda says:

    It seems that people always line up behind the president when the decision is made to go to war – it’s the patriotic thing to do. It’s only when the wars seem to go on longer than the siege of Troy that the public starts to get uneasy, starts to question the purpose of the war. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken 2.5 times longer to wage than WW2. This happened with Vietnam too. The public tends to get impatient when this happens.

    In the case of Iraq, we’ve come to learn that the pretext for the war was fabricated, it was not real, and we spent over a $1 trillion dollars and lost thousands of American lives to wage the war. And in waging this war we ceded control of the region to a country that many conservatives believe we may have to engage in war to contain – Iran. We’ve done this before, we will continue to make these mistakes in the future.

  18. al-Ameda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    The war made sense. Saddam had to get gone.

    In the aftermath of September 11th, why did that have to get done?

    Iraq had nothing to do with the terror attack of 9/11. We were sold on the threat of Iraq’s WMDs, and many political leaders believed in that threat. However, when actual inspection showed there to be no WMDs, the Bush Administration went ahead any way, they were determined to go to war regardless of the the facts concerning their sales job. Yes Hussein is gone – a good thing. Was it worth the cost? 10 years of war, trillions of American dollars, thousands and thousand of lives, and Iran has control of the region. All of this set in motion by lies to go to war.

    This is how governments lose credibility, and how the American public becomes as cynical and distrustful as it is today.

  19. Scott says:

    The war made sense. Saddam had to get gone.

    I totally disagree with this statement. One, militarily, we had the country under our control anyway with an air cap in the north and an air cap over the south. Two, as bad as Hussein was, he was totally against the Iranians who we greatly strengthened by taking our Hussein. Three, by taking him out we unleashed all the competing ethnic and religious groups that comprised that artificial country.

    It was a disaster and a totally predictable disaster.

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:

    As we’ve both noted at one time or another conservatives aren’t really conservatives anymore. They’re an unholy marriage of libertarians, bible-thumpers and hawks.

    I completely missed the import of this. I assumed that the Bush administration had some clue how difficult it is to transform a society as we did successfully in the aftermath of WW2.

  21. Tess says:

    The sad part is how easier it would have been to achieve victory if the administration had been less dogmatic about their ideology.

    We needed to invade Afghanistan, because of al Qaeda. Anyone following a more reality-based approach toward this would have realized that the most important process was the rebuilding, because if they end up collapsing into Somalia Part II, you haven’t accomplished anything in the long run.

    Instead, we started pulling our best people out of Afghanistan for the Iraq War at the most crucial period, and hamstrung our ability to ever get a nation built out of that mess.

    Meanwhile, in fall of 2002, Saddam agreed unconditionally to let UN weapons inspectors in. If we really had reason to believe there were WMDs, we could have agreed with France and Germany (who stopped supporting a war for exactly this reason), declared another victory over Saddam by forcing him to back down, sent in weapons inspectors with the run of the place, and determined that those WMDs didn’t exist, all the while, holding the threat of an invasion over his head to ensure compliance.

    We save trillions of dollars and a massive number of lives. We confirm that Iraq is no WMD threat. We don’t lose the focus and resources we needed in Afghanistan and have every opportunity to leave the country in much better shape than it’s in now. And even better: we have most of our forces in reserve to threaten Iran with as well, rather than giving them a solid decade when they know we’re in no possible position to go after them directly.

    This is still a hawkish foreign policy where we show our determination to stop our enemies. But it’s based in reality, not hypermilitaristic wet dreams of global domination.

  22. Kylopod says:


    Two, as bad as Hussein was, he was totally against the Iranians who we greatly strengthened by taking our Hussein.

    One of the ironies of neocon commentary in the past few years is that it has been singlemindedly focused on the threat of Iran, without reflecting on how it was neocons who helped create that situation in the first place.

  23. Dave Schuler says:


    That’s wishful thinking. The definition of victory in either Iraq or Afghanistan was “a stable country with a democratic government, capable of defending its own borders and that didn’t support terrorists, that was friendly to the U. S.”. Sometimes that was expressed as “an ally of the U. S.”. That wasn’t possible in 2001, it wasn’t possible in 2002, it wasn’t possible in 2008 or 2009 or 2010 and it isn’t possible now. It wasn’t impossible because the tactics were wrong. It was impossible because it was and is beyond our capabilities.

    It is, however, the line of bushwah that was peddled by people who voted for the AUMF and the authorization to invade Iraq who were desperate to explain why the Bush Administration failed in a way that didn’t make themselves look like idiots or opportunisitc poltroons.

    The Bush Administration screwed up when it invaded Iraq. As in War Games, the only way to win was not to play. The Bush Administration screwed up when it engaged in more than a punitive expedition in Afghanistan. Once it had done that and removed the Taliban with boots on the ground it had become the “occupying power” with certain obligations under international law.

  24. Dave Schuler says:

    @john personna:

    I presume that’s the generic “you”. I opposed the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq for reasons that I would think would be obvious at this point but, judging by some of the comments in this thread, still aren’t.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    If you asked “Was WWII worth it?” you probably wouldn’t get an 80% approval rating.

    What an interesting comparison…what’s next, comparing a hangnail to a gunshot wound perhaps…

  26. reid says:

    Doug: the great failure of the Iraq war wasn’t the poor planning and implementation, it was the fact that the Bush administration misled the country into such a tragedy. Terrible.

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I don’t think we lacked the resources except in the broadest sense that we lacked the will and the ruthlessness we once possessed. We have more than enough money, men and materiel. We could have run a tough and smart occupation rather than a flaccid and stupid one. We could have arrested recalcitrant leaders rather than tolerating them. We could have arrested or shot corrupt officials — the Iraqi people would have cheered. We could have financed stabilizing institutions. We could have split the Kurds into a separate state and done the same with the Shia. We could have bought off the rump of the Iraqi Army and used them.

    Mind you, I think in most ways it speaks well of us that we’ve evolved and become less willing to use brutal means. But it worries me, too. There’s a disconnect between our ambitions and our character in this episode. I do believe there are times when the hammer has to come down. I don’t know if we have that in us anymore.

    There have been many successful occupations in history. But can an advanced, small ‘L’ liberal society with a free press pull off that kind of occupation? We occupied Indian lands, obviously. We did it in 1899 in the Philippines and Cuba. In 1945 we had the ground well-prepared in the sense that the German and Japanese populations had suffered terribly and feared worse occupiers and neither the Japanese nor the Germans could have had much doubt about our resolve.

    I think it’s in the category of things which could have been done if we were 19th century or mid-20th century Americans, but for better or worse we were 21st century Americans, and even the less delicate members of our government were not willing to pay the price.

  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I remember that night…. almost got my ass kicked by a guy far bigger than me… It was stupid then…. It is no less stupid now.

  29. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I don’t think we lacked the resources except in the broadest sense that we lacked the will and the ruthlessness we once possessed.

    The commitment to do what would have been needed to be done is the most essential capability in war.

  30. ralphb says:

    Frankly, I’m gobsmacked that 40% are not certain the Iraq war wasn’t a huge mistake. With what we know, that’s worrisome.

  31. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Scott: You really think it will take 20 years for “us” to decide that the nukes in NK or Iran must be removed by military force? From your lips to God’s ears–please.

  32. KariQ says:

    I don’t know that a lack of ruthlessness was what we lacked in the occupation phase. We lacked the forces trained to work with the existing non-extremist power structure, the will and the knowledge to understand the country we were occupying (not the soldiers, but at the top, among the guys making the policy) and the competence to run the civil systems (mail, power, water, etc) needed to maintain peace and security.

    There’s really no point in arguing whether the problem is that we shouldn’t have gone to war in the first place (of course we shouldn’t have) or whether we should have done it smarter. We failed on both counts.

  33. jukeboxgrad says:


    A majority of Democratic Senators and all Republican Senators except one voted in favor of invading Iraq

    Good point, but this is also a good moment to remember that most Ds in the House voted no.

  34. jukeboxgrad says:


    a totally predictable disaster

    Correct, and I find it interesting to notice one particular person who correctly predicted the disaster.

    Recall that Bush I left quickly, instead of trying to remove Saddam. Let’s recall how this was explained:

    I think that the proposition of going to Baghdad is also fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad, we would have to commit a lot of force because I do not believe he would wait in the Presidential Palace for us to arrive. I think we’d have had to hunt him down. And once we’d done that and we’d gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and his government, then we’d have had to put another government in its place. What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi’i government or a Kurdish government or Ba’athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?

    I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it’s my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.

    Also here (audio):

    The notion that we oughta now go into Baghdad and somehow take control of the country strikes me as an extremely serious one in terms of what we would have to do once we got there. You’d probably have to put some new government in place, it’s not clear what kind of government what would be, how long you’d have to stay. For the US to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who’s going to govern in Iraq strike me as a classic definition of a quagmire.

    (Emphasis added.) Whole lot of quagmire talk going on back then. His evident knowledge of the situation tends to create the impression that the mess he subsequently helped create was created intentionally. After all, certain people did make a killing (link).

  35. Rob in CT says:

    Am I the only one who finds 58% pathetically low? That means 42% think it was worth fighting!

    People are stupid.

  36. gVOR08 says:

    @Rob in CT: Always a few undecided. It was 38% approve. Well on it’s way to the famous 27%. This proves once again that Lincoln was right –

    You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.

  37. Rob in CT says:

    See, now, I’d love to draw the same conclusion. But I can’t. 38%… split the undecideds and it’s 60%/40%. That’s terrible, and here’s why:

    1) This is recent. It’s fresh enough so that nobody should be forgetting it, but it’s not so fresh people can’t be expected to think clearly about it.

    2) The casus belli (WMDs, possible terror connection, Saddam is a treath to us) was BS and the promises made by the architects (it’ll be cheap and easy, our troops will be greeted with flowers, beacon of democracy) were BS. This is all clear as day now.

    Yet 4 in 10 Americans think it was worth fighting, after trillions of dollars, ~5k US dead and ? (a couple of hundred thousand?) Iraqi dead.

    Anyone who hopes for less interventionist US foreign policy going forward should be horrified by those numbers, IMO.

  38. gVOR08 says:

    I make a joke of the 27% Crazification Factor, but it is unfortunately true that something like a quarter or a third of the country is so ignorant and so jingoistic they’ll never recognize that Iraq was a mistake. They still think Saddam really did have WMDs and backed bin Laden on 9/11. They still think we could and should have won Vietnam. Yes, it’s terrible, it’s horrifying, and it’s really depressing when you contemplate the future of democracy. More immediate, and so even more frightening, is that they think we can “win” a military intervention in Iran. And some of them are influential people.

    They think the government is the problem, they think the government lies about everything, yet somehow they can’t grasp that W Bush lied.

  39. David M says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Yet 4 in 10 Americans think it was worth fighting, after trillions of dollars, ~5k US dead and ? (a couple of hundred thousand?) Iraqi dead.

    I see the problem there. For a good portion of the country, military spending is free and a couple hundred thousand dead foreigners helps make the war worthwhile. The only negative you actually listed was the 5k US troops that died, and even that’s not all bad, as what’s the point of having the largest military if we’re not going to use it?