In a surprising display of bipartisan consensus, the Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center (AP-NORC) conducted a poll. According to the results, a substantial majority of both Republicans and Democrats believe that the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth fighting.
The poll provides compelling evidence that public sentiment regarding the Afghanistan conflict transcends political affiliations. A growing number of Americans are questioning the efficacy and wisdom of the prolonged military engagement in the region.
The poll from the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research comes two years after the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan in August 2021. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and after the Taliban gave the attackers permission to exploit Afghan territory, the war began. The episode finished with scenes of Afghans and Americans frantically attempting to board one of the final flights leaving Kabul.
Findings from the AP-NORC Poll:
The recent Polls suggested that the withdrawal, seen by many as chaotic and ill-planned, may have been a turning point for President Joe Biden’s ratings. The ratings started a downward slide around that time and have not recovered since.
Two-thirds of Americans say the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting. 65% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans agree with that evaluation. Many have doubts about how successful the U.S. was at accomplishing more specific goals, such as eliminating the threat from extremists or improving opportunities for women.
Slightly fewer than half, 46%, say that the U.S. and its allies were successful at the goal of apprehending or killing the individuals in Afghanistan. They were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. 25% think that the U.S. was unsuccessful in achieving that goal.
Only about one in five Americans say the U.S. successfully improved opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan, with 43% saying such efforts were unsuccessful. But many said advancing the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan was important to them. About three-quarters said that goal was extremely, very or somewhat important to them. Those figures are similar to the level of support for the goal of eliminating the threat of Islamic extremists sheltering in Afghanistan.
Republicans believed that the war was unwinnable from the beginning. The U.S. should have paid closer attention to what happened to the Soviet Union, which waged a decade-long war in Afghanistan during the 1980s only to pull out in defeat in 1989. The U.S. should have had a more specific end goal for how it wanted the war in Afghanistan to go and a better understanding of the country’s tribal politics.
Many American and Afghan lives were lost and billions spent; the vast majority said they felt Afghanistan was not friendly to the U.S. or was an outright enemy. The responses from the polls demonstrate frustration on the part of Americans. The results raised questions like what went wrong with America’s attempts to intervene in Afghanistan.
Many Americans also say the United States was not successful with many of its key objectives in Afghanistan. Eliminating the threat from Islamic extremists in Afghanistan during the war is still seen as an important goal by many across party lines: 46% of Democrats and 44% of Republicans called that highly important. But only about one-quarter of each group said this successfully happened during the war.
Since the Taliban’s return to power, they have restricted women’s rights to education and work and even barred them from public parks. Women were more likely than men across party lines to call advancing the rights of women in Afghanistan an important goal.
Even though Democrats and Republicans have similar views on policy goals for Afghanistan, they differ on whether the U.S. should take a more active role in solving the world’s problems. 55% of Republicans say the U.S. should take a less active role, compared with 15% of Democrats. The responses also demonstrate the ongoing shift in the Republican Party, which has traditionally been more hawkish and interventionist.
When it came to general awareness about issues related to the war in Afghanistan, the poll shows 68% of U.S. adults had heard at least some about the U.S. withdrawal; 59% said the same about the Taliban taking control in 2021; and 64% about the Taliban’s restrictions on women.
But fewer had heard about the treatment by the Taliban of Afghan citizens who worked with the United States during the war; 52% had heard a lot or some information, while 47% said they had heard little or not a thing.
The U.S. evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans in an August 2021 airlift from Kabul airport. But hundreds of thousands of Afghans—many of whom worked closely with the U.S. government—are still trying to flee Afghanistan. Groups helping them have warned that Afghans who worked closely with the U.S. military have faced retribution from the Taliban and say the U.S. has a moral responsibility and national security interest in helping them.
The World’s Reaction
The widespread agreement that the Afghanistan war was not worth the human and financial costs signifies a significant shift in public sentiment and reveals growing disappointment with prolonged military engagements. While the poll did indicate some partisan divergence in views on the potential national security ramifications of the withdrawal, the fact that a majority of both parties expressed doubts about the war’s overall value is a noteworthy development.
This bipartisan consensus could have far-reaching implications for future U.S. foreign policy decisions. Politicians and policymakers may take this public sentiment into account when considering military interventions and overseas engagements, emphasizing the need for a more careful and well-justified approach to such matters.
The sentiment revealed in the poll is a testament to the war’s lasting impact on the American psyche, as well as the belief that valuable resources could have been better allocated to address domestic concerns, particularly in the wake of a global pandemic and economic challenges.
As the U.S. navigates its role on the global stage, the results of the AP-NORC poll underscore the importance of engaging the American public in the decision-making process surrounding military interventions and foreign policy, reflecting a fundamental principle of democratic governance.
The AP-NORC poll findings reflect a unique moment in American politics where bipartisan agreement exists on the view that the Afghanistan war was a costly endeavor with questionable benefits. The implications of this consensus will likely resonate in the corridors of power and public discourse as the nation continues to grapple with its role in a rapidly changing world.