Iraq was a very divisive war in the United States. The decision to invade in 2003 split the public, and the Democrats and Republicans. A new poll by the Pew Research Center however, shows that many Americans now share a similar view of the conflict. This is the result of several factors. First, many Republicans who were always the most supportive of the war, now want to blame President Obama for Iraq, and therefore do not see things as positive as they once did. Democrats, many of which were against the war, now have a slightly better opinion, because of the withdrawal of American troops. Independents on the other hand, are right in the middle. Overall, members of the U.S.’s two major parties are now more likely to share the same ideas on Iraq, but for completely different reasons.
The Pew poll showed that there was a narrowing of opinions amongst Americans on the Iraq war. The organization questioned 924 people in March 2013, with a margin of error of +/-3.9%. The survey showed that those that were for or against the war have now come closer together. On the question of whether the United States had achieved its goals in Iraq, respondents were almost evenly split. 46% said that the U.S. had succeeded, while 43% said that it had failed. That was a dramatic change from the previous three polls that showed a much wider divide on that issue. In 2006 for example, 54% stated that America had succeeded, compared to 40% who believed it had failed. The gap widened in 2010 when 58% responded that the U.S. had succeeded versus 35% who said it had failed, and 56% who thought America had succeeded in 2011, compared to 33% who said it had failed. The same change was seen when people were asked was the U.S. right or wrong to use force against Iraq. 44% said it was wrong, against 41% who said it was right. In 2003, 72% said it was the right decision, compared to only 22% who were opposed. From 2005-2007, when Iraq was in the middle of its civil war, those polled were almost evenly split between the two positions. Then from 2007-2010 when security improved, oddly more thought the Bush administration had made the wrong choice. By 2011 however, 46% believed it was wrong to use force, and 48% said it was right, which was very similar to the 2013 results. The decline in those that felt it was right to invade Iraq was due to changes amongst Republicans. In 2006, 82% of Republicans believed that the U.S. had succeeded in Iraq, but that took a sharp drop afterwards. In 2010 it was down to 68%, followed by 48% in 2012, and 56% in 2013. A decline in positive opinion was also seen amongst Independents who went from 54% saying yes in 2006 to only 41% by 2013. Democrats on the other hand have increasingly seen things turn for the better going from only 34% who thought American had succeeded to 56% in 2010 and 2012, and then down slightly to 45% by 2013. Finally, the partisan divide continued when respondents were asked whether the Iraq war was the right decision. In 2003, 90% of Republicans said yes, steadily dropping to 58% in 2013, the lowest percentage since the question was first asked. For Independents, they started at 66% saying yes in 2003, then saw a large drop to 43% by 2005, before leveling off to 33% in 2013. Democrats followed a similar pattern going from 50% saying yes in 2003 to just 17% by 2008, but then recovering a bit to 33% replying yes by 2013. Many of these changes can be explained through partisan politics. Because George Bush started the Iraq war, Republicans have been more supportive of it, even to this day. Their opinion did drop off slightly as the war did not go as planned, but now has reached its lowest level. That’s because Republican politicians and conservative pundits have largely condemned President Obama’s decision to have a full military withdrawal, which was actually negotiated by the Bush White House. Many Republicans wanted to maintain a residual force in Iraq, and have claimed rightly that Obama has put Iraq on the backburner. In comparison, Democrats were mostly opponents of the war, but their opinions have actually become more positive in the last few years. That’s likely, because Obama was elected president, and pulled out American troops. That’s the reason why the majority still disagrees with the invasion, but now think the U.S. has succeeded.
The Iraq war continues to divide the American politic, but opinions have changed from the early years. Most Americans now are evenly split over whether the U.S. succeeded in Iraq, and whether invading was the right choice. This has occurred for different reasons, largely partisan politics, but it does show a general consensus now forming about the conflict 10 years after its start. The real lasting affects will be seen in how it affects policy, rather than the public. President Obama for example, has shown a strong aversion to getting involved in another Middle Eastern war as shown in his stance towards Libya and Syria. The military also seems to still be debating the merits and faults of counterinsurgency. These effects were actually predicted back in the winter of 2005 by Professor John Mueller of Ohio State University in an article in Foreign Affairs entitled “The Iraq Syndrome.” Professor Mueller wrote that Iraq could have a similar affect upon American politics that Vietnam did. He noted that the Republicans would be hurt by the war, because they started it, that it would create intense partisan divisions more than previous wars, and that Bush’s foreign policy strategies such as unilateralism, preventive wars, and preemption would all be casualties. Those points have all come true showing that while Iraq is hardly talked about in the West today it is still having a lasting impact upon how Washington thinks.
Mueller, John, “The Iraq Syndrome,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005
Pew Research, “A Decade Later, Iraq War Divides the Public,” 3/18/13