Twenty years after the invasion, public opinion about the war has reversed and most believe it made the US less safe
Two decades after the US invaded Iraq, the majority of Americans realize the war was a mistake, according to an Axios/Ipsos poll released this week. While two-thirds of Americans approved of military action in 2003, some 61% now believe it was the wrong decision.
When the US ground invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003, just 26% of respondents to a Pew poll opposed military action to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government.
Support was heavily skewed by political affiliation, with 83% of Republicans favoring invasion compared to 52% of Democrats. That divide has persisted two decades later, with a much smaller majority (58%) of Republicans still insisting the US was right to invade. Only 26% of Democrats still think it was a good idea.
The majority of Americans – 67% – don’t believe the war in Iraq made the US any safer, according to the Ipsos poll, conducted last week among 1,018 Americans over 18 years old.
However, about three quarters of Americans said they want the US to remain “global leader,” and some 54% believe Washington’s overall “focus” on national defense and homeland security in the last two decades have made the US safer.
Much of the initial support for the war was based on false claims by President George W. Bush’s administration and media, who reprinted fantastical claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. While the Bush cabinet never explicitly told Americans Hussein had played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 57% of respondents to a 2003 Pew poll shared this belief anyway. Some 44% of respondents are still unsure who was “right” about the war: those who “totally” supported it, opposed it from the start, or those who changed their minds eventually.
Modern-day Iraq is a far cry from the democratic paradise its people were promised when Bush infamously declared “Mission Accomplished” back in 2003. The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq ended up leading to the deaths of up to at least 210,000 civilians, according to the Iraq Body Count project.
Plunged into instability, the country became a breeding ground for jihadism, and much of Iraq’s northern reaches fell under the control of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists following the partial US pullout in 2011. Some 2,500 US troops are still stationed three years after the Iraqi government ordered them to leave. According to Pentagon data from 2019, total losses of American servicemen during the entire Iraqi war amounted to 4,487 people.