Politics

How America's Opinion On Iraq Has Changed From The Gulf War to ISIS

| by Will Hagle

American support for military intervention in Iraq has been steadily decreasing throughout the past twenty-three years. Three major conflicts — the first Gulf War in 1991, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the current civil war involving the rise of ISIS — have involved U.S. military intervention and led to the changing perception of the U.S.'s role in international affairs. 

President Obama has thus far been more cautious than his two Bush predecessors regarding his foreign policy in Iraq, authorizing limited airstrikes but standing by his campaign promise to keep American combat troops out of the country. His approval is now at an all-time low 38%.

The president has been criticized lately for his public admission that the U.S. has “no strategy” when it comes to ISIS. In a USA Today poll, 54% responded that Obama was “not tough enough” in his approach to foreign policy and security.

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Yet many Americans feel similarly, fed up with the U.S.’s involvement in a country that in many ways is no better off than before we became involved in 2003. In the same USA Today poll, 39% of respondents believe the U.S. “does too much” in terms of solving the world’s problems. 31% believe the world “does too little,” with 24% thinking it “does the right amount.” The majority of Americans at 63%, however, support U.S. attacks against ISIS in Syria, while 62% oppose attacks against Syria in general. 

In 2003, only two years removed from the attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans had a vastly different opinion in terms of foreign policy. According to a Gallup report dated March 24, 2003, 72% of Americans supported the U.S.-led invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. President George W. Bush’s approval rating was 71% at the time. Those numbers contrast with Bush’s father, whose approval rating was 82% and had support of 80% of the public before sending U.S. troops to respond to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. 

Support for American involvement in Iraq has decreased since the initial 1991 military campaign as hope for a stable, democratic Iraq decreases. By June 2014, the majority of Americans (57%) would admit that the U.S. involvement in Iraq “was a mistake."

Still, American opinion has shifted to favor Republicans over Democrats in terms of foreign policy. The following graphic from FiveThirtyEight shows how support has increased for Republican foreign policy to 46%, while the leadership of Democrats has 35% support. 

Yet the government is faced once again with the task of deciding whether the U.S. should become involved again in Iraq and the border nation of Syria. Given the history of U.S. involvement as well as the unprecedented and unpredictable nature of ISIS, there is no easy answer. Hopefully the Obama administration can devise at least some sort of strategy soon.