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Five years in Iraq: a deep disquiet in the US

The bottom line may be that many in the US view the Iraq invasion as a mistake they don't want to see repeated.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 20, 2008

In protest: Antiwar activists turned out at Union Station in Washington on Tuesday to mark their opposition to the five years of US military involvement in Iraq.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters

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The Iraq war has been perhaps America's bitterest lesson since Vietnam in the realities of war and geopolitics – profoundly altering ordinary citizens' sense of their country, its essential abilities, and the overall role it plays in the world.

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Poll after poll shows that Americans are worried about US troops. They're distressed at the war's rising human and financial cost and are fully aware of the globe's rising tide of anti-Americanism. Most of all, they may be confused – unsure of how the United States got here, uncertain about what to do next, and in doubt about how, and when, the conflict will end.

"It's just become a mess, and I don't think there's an easy end to it, so we're going to end up in a quagmire," says Ben Lem, a Boston-area cafe owner.

The bottom line may be that today many in the US view the Iraq invasion as a mistake they don't want to see repeated. Troubles in Iraq appear to have fed a desire on the part of some ordinary Americans for disengagement with the world.

"We are in a period of rising isolationism, just as we saw a bump in isolationism after the war in Vietnam in the '70s," said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies seminar in Washington on March 12.

Five years ago, America – as well as Iraq – was a different place. Virtually every major poll showed US majorities in support of military action. For instance, in a March 2003 Gallup survey, 64 percent of respondents said they were in favor of a US ground invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Today, Americans are mixed in their judgments as to whether the US effort will eventually be a success. The public seems roughly split as to whether US troops should come home now or stay until the situation stabilizes.

But on another point, national opinion seems clearer: In hindsight, a majority of Americans view the decision to invade as a mistake. In a February CBS/New York Times survey, 58 percent said the US should have stayed out.

Moreover, interest in and knowledge of the situation in Iraq are declining among US citizens – in part because news coverage is diminishing. Public awareness of the number of US military fatalities in Iraq has declined sharply since last August, according to a March 12 study from the Pew Research Center.