It appears that public support for the war in Afghanistan is beginning to suffer from the “Iraq effect.” I use the term to describe a shift in public opinion when a military operation does not go as planned and U.S. casualties increase as a result. This, of course, is not a new idea, but Iraq serves as the most recent high-profile example of a conflict in which public opinion shifted from very high support to very low support during the course of the operation.
Immediately after the U.S.-led effort to topple the government of Saddam Hussein in early 2003, public support for the Iraq war stood at more than 70 percent. As the insurgency began to heat up in late 2003 and early 2004, however, and as U.S. casualties began to rise, that support began a steady decline that has only begun to rebound in the last few months, more than two years after President Bush ordered a surge of American forces to Baghdad and al-Anbar Province.
Now, with the situation in Afghanistan continuing to deteriorate, and with U.S. casualties there continuing to increase, support for the war, which stood at nearly 90 percent in November 2001, has hit a new low in the latest USAToday / Gallup poll. Nearly half of all respondents believe the United States made a mistake when it deployed its military forces to Afghanistan, and the number who believe the war is going well has fallen to less than 40 percent.
Support for the war has steadily eroded. According to USAToday, the number of respondents who think military action in Afghanistan was a mistake is up 12 percent in just the last month. As the number of attacks continues to increase, and as more American military forces are put into harm’s way as a result of planned force increases in Afghanistan, the number of U.S. killed and wounded will continue to rise, and public support will undoubtedly continue to decline.
The news isn’t any better for one of the United States’ most reliable allies. An Associated Press story from March 17 reported that 60 percent of Britons are unconvinced of the need to keep British military forces in Afghanistan. Barely a third of respondents to a BBC-commissioned ComRes poll said they were “fairly” or “very convinced” by the British government’s case for staying in the war.
This could pose a problem for the U.S. war effort against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. The road ahead promises to be a long one and casualties are likely to increase, perhaps heavily, over the next couple of years. As President Obama attempts to find a solution to what he has referred to as the “right” war, he will need the support of both America’s allies and the American people.