PRINCETON, NJ -- Five years after the United States launched major air strikes on Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power, 42% of Americans believe history will judge the conflict a success, while 54% predict it will be remembered as a failure.
This generally negative indictment of the Iraq war is similar to the view 59% of Americans now hold that sending U.S. troops to Iraq in the first place was "a mistake." Only 42% of Americans considered sending troops to be a mistake shortly after the first anniversary of the invasion that began on March 19, 2003, but by 2005, the figure was regularly 50% or more, and it has approached 60% for about the past year.
Public opposition to the Iraq war does not appear to be based on perceptions that the Iraqi people have suffered from the conflict. As troubled as Iraq is today by sectarian violence and damage to the nation's infrastructure from the war, two-thirds of Americans (67%) believe Iraq will be better off in the long run than it was before the U.S. and British invasion.
Rather, five years after President Bush directed the U.S. military to launch major air strikes on Iraq to drive Saddam Hussein out of power, a majority of Americans believe he overstated the dangers of that regime. More specifically, 53% agree with the statement that "the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," while 42% disagree.
A majority of Americans came to this damning conclusion about Bush in 2005, and have since maintained it.
Aside from whether Americans believe the administration lied about the threat Iraq posed, many Americans simply believe the threat didn't exist. More than half of those who consider the war a mistake (representing 32% of Americans) say they hold that view because they believe the United States lacked sufficient justification to invade Iraq in the first place. Significantly fewer (18% of Americans) cite mishandling of the war effort as the main reason they consider it to have been a mistake. Another 8% say both reasons are equally important to their criticism of the invasion.
In a special one-night reaction poll conducted March 20, 2003, Gallup found 76% of Americans saying they approved of the United States' decision to go to war with Iraq, including 60% who strongly approved. Only 8% predicted the conflict would last more than a year, and only 11% thought more than 1,000 troops would be killed. A majority of Americans at that time said that simply removing Saddam Hussein from power -- even if he escaped capture -- would qualify as "success."
Five years and roughly 4,000 U.S. deaths later, Americans got more than they bargained for, and it shows in diminished support for the war.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,021 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 21-24, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.