The crisis in Syria continues to escalate as neighboring countries absorb millions of refugees, cities sustain major damage from fighting, and the country has become a breeding ground for extremism. As Washington’s decision-makers grapple with the Syrian crisis and America’s role in the civil war, they should be paying attention to the legacy of the war in Afghanistan among the American public.
A CNN poll in December 2013 revealed the Afghani war to be the least popular in American history. According to the report, only 17% of respondents said they supported the war, down from 52% of those surveyed in 2008. Eighty-two percent say that they oppose the war in Afghanistan. A Pew poll, released a month after the CNN poll, revealed that public perception of the success in both Iraq and Afghanistan has plummeted since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Fifty-two percent of respondents believed that the U.S. failed to reach its goals in Afghanistan, and as the chart below shows, there has been increasingly dwindling support for use of military force in the country over the last eight years.
|Source: Pew Research 2014|
As America’s longest war draws to a close and Americans reflect on its costs, successes and failures, public opinion polls reflect a war-weary nation. President Obama, Secretary Kerry and other world leaders are growing frustrated as diplomatic negotiations are not as fruitful as hoped. Polls from last September showed that the American people were against military strikes and/or intervention in Syria. As the last troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, and the public continues to evaluate the war’s implications, it is likely views of the war will continue to be negative. This negative perception of a war in the Middle East, as well as growing pessimism regarding its effects, is likely to make Americans even less supportive of military action in Syria. Policymakers and elected officials should take the public’s pessimism into consideration as they evaluate options moving forward in the Middle East.