Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – A Pew Research Center opinion poll conducted among 1,284 veterans who had served since 2001 (which also polled 1,087 American civilians as a control), found that a majority of veterans holds that the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars and the intervention against ISIl in Syria were not worth it.
The results were summarized by researchers Ruth Igielnik and Kim Parker.
64% of veterans said that the Iraq War was not worth fighting.
33% said that it was worthwhile.
These percentages are similar to those of the civilians polled.
It did not matter whether the veterans had actually served in Iraq or not– the 64% who doubted the benefit of the war remained constant.
Veterans were a little bit more bullish on the Afghanistan War, in that 58% said that it was not worth it. 38% said it was worth fighting.
Again, the civilian percentages are almost the same.
The Syria intervention was slightly more popular, but even there, 55% doubted it had been worthwhile.
In contrast, 58% of civilians had their doubts about Syria.
Those veterans most likely to say that the wars had been worthwhile were members of the Republican Party. Igielnik and Parker write
- “45% of Republican veterans vs. 15% of Democratic veterans say the war in Iraq was worth fighting, while 46% of Republican veterans and 26% of Democratic veterans say the same about Afghanistan. The party gaps are nearly identical among the public.”
It seems to be noteworthy that even among Republican veterans, only a plurality thinks those wars were worth fighting.
Pew didn’t ask the why question, so we can only speculate about why there is this lack of confidence in these wars. I’ve been writing about them for 18 years, and I have some really good speculations.
The Bush administration advertised Iraq as an intervention to stop “weapons of mass destruction,” which the Bushies let the public think meant Saddam Hussein with nukes, while Bush and his people were confident they’d at least find some old canisters of mustard gas. It turns out Saddam Hussein really had destroyed his chemical stockpiles; he never was very far advanced on nuclear enrichment. So the rationale of the war fell apart. Then the Bushies said it was fought for democracy, but you couldn’t call what is happening in Iraq politically exactly democracy. Then ISIL arose and took 40% of Iraq way from the Shiite government in Baghdad, and the US had to go back in to help destroy the terrorist organization.
Bush borrowed the money to pay for his wars, putting up the deficit and contributing to the Bush Depression.
So that’s a pretty clear failure, and it is difficult to think of even one benefit to the US of having gone over there. The third of vets who still think it was a good idea don’t, I think, want to admit that Bush and the GOP were on a wild goose hunt.
Afghanistan has gone even worse, with the Taliban having taken back 50% of the country and the US seeking talks with them.
In all these conflicts, there was no clear grand strategy, no clear, achievable goals, and nothing that looked like victory.
The old saying is that victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan. With the exception of the fight against ISIL in Syria, these were defeats. Even in the case of Syria, when it is all over the US will likely have defeated ISIL so that the Baath government of dictator Bashar al-Assad, and his backer Vladimir Putin, can pick up the pieces. Most vets wouldn’t view that outcome as having been a particularly worthwhile sacrifice.
One thing seems clear. If a majority of Republican veterans can’t be found to uphold the value of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria Wars, we damn sure ought not to be starting any new conflicts in the Middle East that are doomed to run up our national debt, bankrupt us, devastate our economy, and produce more disillusionment– even among the most gung ho section of the population. Yes, I’m saying we should just skip the proposed Iran War and avoid having to read 20 years from now about how few who fought in it thought it was a good idea.