Do Iraq and Afghanistan veterans think the wars were worth fighting?


U.S. soldiers fold the flag as they prepare to hand over their base to Iraqi forces in Iraq’s southern province of Basra on June 22, 2011. (Atef Hassan / Reuters)

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more likely than other Americans to say the wars were worth the costs, even as the newest generation of soldiers divides sharply along familiar partisan lines.

The new data come from an extensive survey of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation:

  • 53 percent say the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting vs. 30 percent of Americans overall.
  • 44 percent think Iraq was worth fighting vs. 38 percent of the general public.
  • 87 percent of veterans say they feel proud about what they did in the wars.
  • 40 percent who served in Iraq think the average citizen there appreciates their service; 34 percent of Afghanistan war veterans feel appreciated by the nation’s citizens.

Despite support outpacing the general public, veterans’ support is still lukewarm, tempered by deep partisan divisions and nagging doubts that Iraqi and Afghan citizens appreciated their service.

More than anything, partisanship divides veterans’ ratings of the wars. On Afghanistan, only 34 percent of Democratic veterans say Afghanistan was worth the costs, compared with 55 percent of independents and 67 percent of Republicans. On Iraq the story is similar, with Republicans saying by 2 to 1 the war was worth fighting; Democrats say the opposite by 2 to 1.

That wide partisan gap may be surprising given soldiers could judge the wars from firsthand experiences rather than gut partisan instincts. But it’s also possible that logic is backward. With many deploying as young adults, veterans’ views about the war may play a key role in shaping their partisan loyalties.

Support for the war ranges across many other groups — breakdowns are available on the survey’s interactive poll pages.

  • Men are more likely to say the wars were worth fighting than women.
  • Military officers are more apt to say wars are worth it than non-officers and enlisted people.
  • Vets serving in combat roles are more supportive than those in support-only roles. 
  • Members of the Air Force are least likely to see either war as worth fighting.

Appreciation from citizens in the countries also appears to play a factor in support for the war. Just four in 10 or fewer veterans believe the average citizen in each country appreciates their service, but those who feel appreciated are about 20 percentage points more apt to to say the wars were worth fighting.

The Post-Kaiser survey was conducted Aug. 1 to Dec. 15, 2013 among a random national sample of 819 active duty military and veterans who served in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Interviews were conducted on conventional and cellular phones; the overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus five percentage points.

Read more from the Post-Kaiser Iraq and Afghanistan veterans survey: 

For recent veterans, a legacy of pride and pain.

Key findings from the poll.

Interactive poll results and how the survey was conducted.

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

This post has been updated; it originally misstated the percentage of Democratic veterans who say the Afghanistan war was worth the cost  and the overall margin of sampling error.

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