The majority of American veterans and members of the general public agreed in two new surveys that the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the U.S. military campaign in Syria, were all “not worth fighting.”
The Pew Research Center, for the pair of polls published Wednesday, asked all respondents to consider the costs versus the benefits to the United States in their analysis of whether each conflict was worthwhile.
Roughly two-thirds of both veterans and members of the public told Pew that the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq wasn’t worth it, and nearly 60 percent said they felt the same way about the ongoing 18-year war in Afghanistan—the longest in U.S. history. The numbers were slightly lower for opposing the American-led intervention in the Syrian Civil War, which is also ongoing.
Pew found that “veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan are no more supportive of those engagements than those who did not serve in these wars. And views do not differ based on rank or combat experience.”
However, Pew pointed out that responses from the general public and veterans differed “significantly” depending on their reported political parties—Republicans from both groups were far more likely than Democrats to say the wars were “worth it.”
Dan Spinelli wrote for Mother Jones Wednesday that while support for the Iraq War dropped during the George W. Bush administration, “the Afghanistan conflict enjoyed broader support at the start of President Barack Obama’s presidency, but that approval eroded during his second term, even though Republicans continue to view both wars more favorably than Democrats. Once Donald Trump entered the White House, more than half of Americans believed the U.S. had failed in its mission in Afghanistan.”
Will Goodwin, director of government relations at the progressive advocacy group VoteVets, told Spinelli that “people came to realize over time that there was no real strategy for our engagement [in Afghanistan]… It wasn’t clear what the national security interest was.”
Trump has, at times, signaled that he agrees with the views of Afghanistan and Syria shared by most veterans and the public. Last December, the president pushed for a full withdrawal of the U.S. military from Syria and to reduce by half the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan. In February, Trump reversed his order to bring all U.S. troops home from Syria.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during an unannounced trip to Afghanistan last month, said that “we’ve made clear to the Taliban that we’re prepared to remove our forces. I want to be clear, we’ve not yet agreed on a timeline to do so.” In an interview with Fox News last week, Trump said that unnamed Pentagon leaders had convinced him some U.S. military presence in the country is still necessary.
Pew’s polling results, Agence France-Pressenoted Wednesday, “come as the U.S. and the Taliban engage in talks on bringing to a close the conflict which Washington launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.”
Washington has said it wants to seal a political deal with the Taliban, ahead of Afghan presidential polls due in September, to allow foreign forces to begin to withdraw.
The United States held six days of talks in Qatar with the Taliban which ran until Saturday.
Those discussions paused for Sunday and Monday’s Afghan summit, which saw around 70 delegates including the Taliban discuss the future of the country.
The Taliban continues to provoke condemnation from human rights groups for its bombings that kill civilians—including one over this past weekend—though civilian injuries and deaths at the hands of U.S.-based forces also continue to spark sharp criticism. As Common Dreamsreported in May, the United Nations revealed an “unprecedented” finding that “pro-government forces,” including both Afghan and international troops, killed more Afghan civilians than the Taliban and other armed anti-government groups did in the first quarter of 2019.
Alongside persistent concerns of civilian safety due to the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan is an ongoing battle for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to probe possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country, including those committed by U.S. forces. After the ICC in April caved to the Trump administration’s bullying and decided to not pursue an investigation, Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed an appeal in June.