NEW SURVEY: 15 Years After Operation Iraqi Freedom, Americans Think the Conflict Has Failed to Make the United States Safer and Believe It’s Time to Bring Troops Home

Arlington, VA, March 20, 2018— A new poll reveals that while Americans are supportive of our troops and their efforts, they do not believe our strategy in Iraq has made the United States safer or the Middle East more stable. In addition, a majority of Americans believe it’s time to decrease or withdraw troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The survey comes in advance of the 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, which was launched on March 20, 2003. The poll, released today and conducted earlier this month by the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) and Real Clear Politics, asked 1,000 voters for their thoughts on the legacy of the Iraq War and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

“Americans clearly appreciate our troops’ courageous performance on the battlefield, but a majority fail to see how 15 years of war in Iraq have made the Middle East more stable or us safer here at home,” said Will Ruger, veteran and vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute. “That verdict should give us pause the next time we consider a military intervention. And it should compel the foreign policy elite in Washington to ask themselves whether our current fights are worth another American life.”

CKI and Real Clear Politics also asked respondents about their knowledge of and general opinions about military spending.

“Americans do not have a good idea of how much the United States spends on its military—most Americans think spending is $100 billion, when the actual budget is close to $700 billion.  Despite severely underestimating how much we spend on our military, Americans feel that we must use our resources more judiciously and be careful in considering our commitments,” said David Craig, editor of RealClearDefense. “The recent budget deal ended the sequester for military spending and significantly increases defense spending. Americans feel that Congress needs to address their concerns regarding military spending and our commitments abroad.”

The Iraq War has failed to make the world safer, a majority agree.

  • When asked whether the Iraq War made the United States more or less safe, the majority of Americans (67 percent) said it made the United States less safe or “neither more or less safe.” Specifically, 36 percent of respondents said the Iraq war had made the United States less safe; 31 percent said neither more or less safe; 26 percent said more safe; and seven percent did not know.
  • Similarly, more than two-thirds of Americans think the war has failed to improve the situation in the Middle East, with almost half of those polled (47 percent) responding that the Middle East has become less stable because of the war. When asked whether the Iraq War made the Middle East more or less stable, 47 percent said less stable; 22 percent said more; 21 percent said neither; and 10 percent did not know.

Americans support the troops, but are skeptical about the Iraq War strategy.

  • When asked whether the United States has been generally successful or unsuccessful in Iraq, more Americans said unsuccessful or neither successful or unsuccessful (48 percent combined) than said successful (43 percent).
  • When asked why they think the United States has been unsuccessful, the three most frequent answers were because the situation is still the same/objectives are not met/they didn’t accomplish anything (15 percent); because Iraq is still unstable/the region is still in turmoil (13 percent); and because there were no clear goals or strategy (13 percent).
  • When asked why they think the United States has been successful, the most frequent answer (27 percent) was because the United States removed a dictator from power or defeated a leader of terrorism.
  • When asked if they supported or opposed the Iraq War when it began, 32 percent of respondents said they did; 32 percent said they opposed the war; 28 percent said they neither supported or opposed the war; and eight percent said they didn’t know. According to research by the Pew organization, 72 percent of people in 2003 thought that the decision to use military force in Iraq was the right decision.
  • When asked if they had become more or less supportive of U.S. military combat troops’ involvement in the region since the beginning of the Iraq War, 41 percent said they were more supportive today. Twenty-seven percent said their support had not changed; 25 percent said they had become less supportive; and seven percent did not know.

Half of those polled want fewer U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • When asked whether they thought the United States should increase, decrease, or remove troops in Iraq, 25 percent wanted to remove all troops and 25 percent called for a decrease in troop levels. Only 20 percent said increase troop levels; 14 percent said keep troop levels the same; and 16 percent were unsure.
  • When asked whether the United States should increase, decrease, or remove troops in Afghanistan, 26 percent said reduce troop levels, and 24 percent said remove all troops. Nineteen percent were in favor of keeping troop levels the same, while 16 percent wanted an increase. Fifteen percent were unsure.

The Iraq War has changed some opinions on the use of military force.

  • When asked if the Iraq War had changed their view about whether the U.S. military should be used more or less in the world, 33 percent said it made them believe it should be used less; 33 percent said their views hadn’t changed; 23 percent said it made them believe the U.S. military should be used more; and 11 percent said they did not know.

A majority of Americans don’t see a need for more defense spending.

  • When asked whether they thought the U.S. government should spend more or less on its own defense, 51 percent of respondents said the budget should either be cut (30 percent) or stay the same (21 percent). Forty-two percent thought the budget should be increased; 7 percent did not know.

Americans are getting many facts wrong about military spending and the origins of the Iraq War.

  • Most Americans do not know how much the federal government spends on the military. When asked how much funding the U.S. military receives each year, 62 percent of Americans said $100 billion or less annually.  (The United States spends about seven times that amount.) Nineteen percent said $100 billion to $1 trillion, and 10 percent said more than $1 trillion.
  • Most Americans cannot name the year when the Iraq War began. When asked what year the conflict started, only 15 percent of respondents correctly answered 2003. Forty-seven percent said 2001 or earlier; 9 percent said 2002; 3 percent said 2004; 11 percent said 2005 or later; and 16 percent did not know.
  • When asked why the Iraq War was launched, the three most frequent answers were to depose Saddam Hussein or because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (22 percent); the U.S. wanted Iraq’s oil (15 percent); and because of the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11 (14 percent).
  • Americans do understand that the United States still has troops in Iraq. When asked if the U.S. military is still engaged in the country, only nine percent said no; 78 percent said yes; and 13 percent said they were not sure.

A leading survey research firm, Survey Sampling International, fielded the nationwide survey from March 9 to 14, 2018. The survey had 1,000 total respondents. About half of respondents were surveyed using random phone dials, with half of those being land-line and the other half being cell phone. The other half of respondents were surveyed using Survey Sampling International’s opt-in web-based survey panel.  Results are weighted using broad geographic region, education, race and ethnicity, age, and gender. The survey has a conservatively estimated +/- 4 percentage points margin of error.

FOR MEDIA INQUIRIES, PLEASE CONTACT:
James Hitchcock jhitchcock@realclearpolitics.com (812) 746-8113
Trice Jacobson trice.jacobson@cki.org (703) 875-1737

CHARLES KOCH INSTITUTE
The Charles Koch Institute is an educational organization focused on the importance of free societies and how they increase well-being for the overwhelming majority of people. Through the Institute’s professional education, research, and training programs, the Institute works to prepare professionals for careers that improve well-being by advancing free societies.

 

REALCLEARPOLITICS
RealClear Media Group (RCMG), led by its flagship brand RealClearPolitics, encompasses 14 specialty areas of coverage, with original reporting from our staff of seasoned reporters, live events, the well-known RCP Poll Average, and original video. With a wide array of news and analysis available online, insiders rely on RealClear’s sites as a go-to source for reporting, commentary, and analysis on all sides of the most pressing issues impacting news and politics.

The Institute's Will Ruger, vice president of policy and research, and Real Clear Defense's David Craig Discuss Americans' views on the Iraq War for Morning Joe

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