Over the two decades after the United States invasion of Iraq began, public support for the drawn-out war dwindled, according to a series of surveys conducted by think tanks and research groups.
In stark contrast to the early stages of the conflict, today 36% of the public agrees the United States was right to invade Iraq in March 2003, with 31% believing it made America safer, according to an Axios/Ipsos Two Americas Index poll conducted earlier this March. In 2022, Gallup found that just 16% of Americans had a mostly or very favorable rating of the war.
Four years ago, 62% of Americans said the war was not worth fighting, according to the Pew Research Center. A majority of military veterans, including those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, came to the same conclusion.
The organization found in a review of its polls from the last 20 years that American support for the use of force in Iraq was initially built on a series of falsehoods, including that the regime possessed “weapons of mass destruction” and had ties to terrorist groups like al-Qaida, which conducted the Sept. 11 attack. Over time, however, approval would plummet as doubts about Iraq’s illicit behavior grew and the realities of the prolonged, violent war set in.
A Pew survey conducted a few weeks prior to President George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address found that 73% of Americans favored military action in Iraq; just 16% were opposed. More than half (56%) said the U.S. should take action against Iraq “even if it meant U.S. forces might suffer thousands of casualties.”
At that point, more than a year before the invasion began, Americans saw several justifications for taking military action. 83% said if the U.S. learned Iraq had aided the Sept. 11 terrorists, that would be a “very important reason” to use military force there. Nearly as many said the same if it was shown that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction (77%) or harboring other terrorists (75%).
In February 2003, just a month before U.S. troops deployed to Iraq, a solid 66% majority of Americans favored the use of military force against the country if given backing from major allies.
Following the initial invasion, the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 and Bush’s notorious “Mission Accomplished” speech, public support for the use of force in Iraq rose to 74%, but would never again reach that level, according to the research center.
By May 2004, more than a year into the conflict, the Pew Research Center noted the share of Americans who said the use of military force was going at least “fairly well” fell below 50% for the first time. With growing partisan polarization over the conflict, Bush’s strategy to send additional forces to Iraq further divided the nation. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans opposed the plan, a 2007 survey from the research center reported.
A month before the end of U.S. military operations in Iraq in December 2011, 75% of Americans — including nearly half of Republicans (48%) — approved President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from the country by the end of the year, with just 21% disapproving.
Although that year a majority of Americans (56%) said the U.S. mostly succeeded in achieving its goals in Iraq, that notion later faded, the research center reported.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media