Americans Question Gains of War in Afghanistan

July 16, 2012

By: Dina Smeltz, Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy

The United States granted Afghanistan special status as an official non-NATO ally this past weekend, adding Afghanistan to a select group that includes Israel, Japan, and Pakistan. Presumably, this move in part attempts to assuage Afghan government concerns over the withdrawal of US combat troops from their country in 2014. According to American public opinion, however, there are no regrets about bringing the troops home. In fact, results from the recent Chicago Council Survey find that nearly seven in ten Americans think the war in Afghanistan has not been worth the cost.

Two in three Americans believe war in Afghanistan not worth fighting
More than twice as many Americans (67%) say that the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting than say that it has been (32%). Majorities across the political spectrum agree that the costs outweigh the benefits, though Republicans are more likely to say the war has been worth it (41%) and Independents are least likely to say so (22%). 

This finding is on par with an identically worded question in an April 2012 ABC News/Washington Post poll and a striking reversal from the ABC February 2007 poll when a majority (57%) thought that the fighting in Afghanistan was worth the costs.

After more than a decade, a majority think Afghan war has not made US safer
Half (51%) of Americans believe that the American military action in Afghanistan has not made a difference in making the United States safer from the threat from terrorism. Among the rest, slightly more say the United States is safer (30%) than less safe (18%). Understandably, there is a relationship between opinions on whether the war was worth it and whether the United States is now safer from terrorism. Two-thirds of those who believe the war was worth the cost say the United States is safer from terrorism, while the same proportion of those who think the war was not worth fighting say US military action has made no difference.  Republicans (37%) are somewhat more likely to say the war has made the US safer, while Democrats (26%) and Independents (30%) are less likely to say so.

Americans ready to welcome troops home
Slightly more Americans (44%) think the United States should bring all of its combat troops home as scheduled than think all combat troops should be withdrawn before the 2014 deadline (38%). Only 17 percent believe that some combat troops should be left behind after 2014.

While battle fatigue is likely a major factor in the American public’s disillusionment with the war in Afghanistan, most Americans feel that the Afghans themselves want NATO forces to exit their country.  Six in ten (60%) say that most people in Afghanistan want NATO forces to leave now.  Just over a third (36%) say most Afghans want NATO forces to remain for now, and nearly half of this group favor withdrawing before the 2014 deadline (45%).

A Note on Methods
This report is based on the results of The Chicago Council’s 2012 biennial survey of public opinion conducted from May 25 to June 8, 2012. The survey probes American attitudes on a wide range of US foreign policy issues. GFK Custom Research conducted the survey for The Chicago Council using a randomly selected sample of 1877 adults age 18 and older from their large-scale, nationwide research panel. The panel is recruited using stratified random digit dialing (RDD) telephone sampling.  The margin of error for this survey is +/- 2.5%.
Americans Question Gains of War in Afghanistan

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