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Most Americans See Afghan War as Not Reducing Threat of Terrorism

August 26, 2012

Originally published August 30, 2012

Most Support Obama's Plan for Withdrawal

Digest of US Opinion on Violent Conflict
Public Opinion on Global Issues homepage

A majority of Americans do not think the war in Afghanistan has reduced the threat of terrorism. However, this does not lead Americans to want to withdraw immediately, nor to persist indefinitely in the effort. Majorities express comfort with President Obama's plan to gradually withdraw U.S. troops between now and the end of 2014. These are some of the findings in a newly updated digest of U.S. polls on violent conflict.

(U.S. Army photo by Lt. Benjamin Addison)

A majority of Americans (59 percent in a March 2012 Gallup poll) still think that going to war in Afghanistan was the right thing to do.

However, a June 2012 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that asked "all in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not?" found a two-to-one margin saying it has not been worth fighting (67 percent to 32 percent).

Even more striking, the CCGA poll found only three in ten saying that the operation had made the United States safer from terrorism. Nearly seven in ten said it made "no difference" (51 percent) or had even made the United States less safe (18 percent).

"Despite this downbeat view of the Afghanistan war, the majority is neither calling for immediate withdrawal, nor for doubling down on the effort" says Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes.

A very large majority approves the Obama administration's policy of drawing down troop levels in Afghanistan, with a full exit taking place in 2014--79 percent in a February 2012 Gallup poll, with 56 percent approving strongly.

These digests have been developed by the Council on Foreign Relations' International Institutions and Global Governance program and the Program on International Policy Attitudes, affiliated with the University of Maryland. They provide comprehensive analyses of international and U.S. polls on the world's most pressing challenges -- and the institutions designed to address them. The digest of international polling on violent conflict can be found here and the digest of U.S. polling here.

After a U.S. sergeant was killed by an Afghan in March 2012, support for speeding up the withdrawal of U.S. troops surged, in one poll even getting above half. However, in the most recent poll in June 2012 by CCGA, only 38 percent called for speeding up withdrawal faster than Obama's 2014 timeline.

Less than one in four would like to slow the pace or to stay until Afghan stability is achieved.

Several factors may be diminishing support for the operation in Afghanistan.

•  Majorities are pessimistic about the ultimate success of the operation. CBS/New York Times asked in March 2012: "Regardless of whether you think taking military action in Afghanistan was the right thing to do, would you say the war in Afghanistan has been mostly a success for the United States, or not?" Fifty-nine percent thought it has not been a success, while 29 percent thought it has and another 6 percent volunteered that the results had been mixed.

•  Majorities now believe that most Afghans are opposed to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Asked in June 2012 by CCGA whether most Afghans wanted NATO troops to remain for now or to leave now, three in five (61 percent) said they thought most Afghans wanted NATO to depart; 36 percent thought most Afghans wanted NATO to stay. This sense that NATO has outstayed its welcome is up dramatically from two years ago, presumably in response to the killings of Americans by Afghanis.

•  There is substantial dissatisfaction with the level of multilateral support. In April 2009, CNN found a very large 78 percent thought "other countries that are allies of the United States" are "not doing enough to help the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan."


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