I was only born in 2001. I know London and DC had enormous protests, but none of the details. So eyewitness accounts are great but I need historical data too.

With the triumph of YouTube I can follow the war closer than I’d frankly like to. But how does that track with people who watched the Iraq war in 2003: American, European and otherwise? Has public sentiment on war changed?

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    One of the major things that changed is the Internet. Back in 2001 in Iraq you couldn't just pull your smartphone out of the pocket and start speaking truth or fake to the whole world.
    – anemyte
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 9:43
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    No one deserves to die, however terrible they may be. Killing people is an inherently immoral action, although, as in the case of fighting against an invading country, as in the case of the invasion of Ukraine, it may be the lesser of two evils and thus circumstantially justified. A necessary evil, however, continues to be evil. This is in large part why most nations have abandoned the death penalty. @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica is largely correct.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 18:30
  • And yes, I downvoted the question just for that phrase.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 18:32
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    @Obie2.0 I understand your PoV, but note that the OP was ambivalent: "want to cry". I upvoted this Q myself: all these Qs about explaining the difference between say Iraq Wars or Libya... and Ukraine has made me somewhat reevaluate those previous wars: if we want to minimize wars in the world, the West can't conduct too many military interventions under the banner of "but this is different". So on balance I find this to be somewhat of a, worthwhile, anti-war Q despite that particular statement: it is not unexpected to be conflicted at such senseless, but perhaps also necessary, slaughter Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 21:29

5 Answers 5


The public reception of the US invasion of Iraq was very different in Europe (in particular France and Germany) and in the US. In the former, the attempts of the US government to justify the invasion were generally considered to be lies. It was clear that Iraq had no substantial collection of WMDs, and was not harbouring Al-Qaeda. On the other hand, Saddam Hussain was widely reviled in Europe, too, and the fall of his regime considered a positive outcome of the war. Here, we have the first important difference in the reception of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the US invasion of Iraq: Both see an Imperialist Power invading a country under flimsy pretext, but in the former, the victim is a democratic country with a (now) extremely popular elected leader, in the latter, the victim is a dictatorship led by a genocidal maniac.

The next important difference is the timeline: It took just about 3 weeks from the start of the US invasion to the fall of Bagdad. As such, the US military quickly became the best hope for re-establishing order and security in Iraq. It was one thing to believe they never should have invaded in the first place, but a different thing to call for them to leave before "the job was done".

This again is in contrast to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Here, "just go home right now" never ceased to be the right thing for the Russian army to do.

At the bottom line, I believe very few people in Europe received news of US combat losses in Iraq positively; certainly not with the kind of grim satisfaction many react to Russian losses in Ukraine.

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    – JJJ
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 22:08

People in general dislike war, but also believe that sometimes, a war is worth fighting. And so we have:

Do you believe the Invasion of Iraq (2003) was worth fighting for, given the information available at the time?

  • If yes: you'd hate the suffering produced by war (which is inevitable), but you'd argue that it was necessary anyway, because of WMDs, to liberate Iraq from dictatorial rule, etc.
  • If no: you'd hate the suffering produced by war (which is inevitable), and you'd also sympathize with the Iraqis, contribute to aid intended for Iraq, attend protests against the war, boycott American goods, etc.
  • If neither yes or no: you'd hate the suffering produced by war (which is inevitable), hope the fighting ends ASAP, and go on with your life trying to forget about it.

Something similar applies to the war in Ukraine. The difference is the number of people who think "yes", "no", and "neither yes or no". Since you have said "I think [the Russians] deserve to die", you fall in the camp that thinks the war in Ukraine is worth fighting. It doesn't mean you like war, but it does mean that you think the suffering in Ukraine caused by war is nonetheless a necessary evil, since it contributes to some greater purpose. Most of the Western world/media think so too, so you see few anti-war protests, but they do happen.

tl dr: public sentiment on war hasn't changed. It's just that there are more people that consider this war worth fighting than there are that consider the invasion of Iraq worth fighting.

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    "so you see few anti-war protests" - certainly the orientation of the liberal-controlled media is clear on this conflict, but I'd also suggest another angle, which is that there are few protests because most people regard Putin as being able to take care of himself in a conventional military fashion (in what is a conventional proxy conflict), whereas with Iraq the agenda was more muddled, Saddam a much smaller opponent, and the liberals themselves were not of one voice in favour of that war.
    – Steve
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 8:31
  • I think the statement "People in general dislike war" pulls the answer back. I dislike war but I am not naive enough to think that all people dislike war. Probably right now and definitely not in history
    – Argyll
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 4:00

One difference is temporal.

Taking the groupings in Allure's answer you'd find that a number of people moved from the "support" group to the "oppose" group over time.

The reasons are various. The WMD claims seemed, to some, credible in the beginning, then that turned out wrong. Some people really thought democracy could be brought to Iraq. On the US side, the long grinding casualty count was not apparent in the first 6-8 months - that gradually ramped up the revulsion, along with places like Fallujah and scandals like Abu Ghraib.

To add to that that for those operating in the public sphere, past support for the war is now best disavowed but quite a few were on the record supporting it.

On the flip, the Russian invasion seems to have struggled having much of a "support" base outside of its own population from the start.

As a comment states, temporal drift cuts both ways. Meduza.io claims (Nov 6th) that Russian propaganda has made some good headway in Germany towards injecting a "Russia was pushed into it" sentiment (note however that we disagree somewhat about the reason).

  • Temporal factor goes both ways, actually - some third parties have moved more towards "support", some more towards "oppose". White lies seem to have been at least somewhat successful in harboring support from those holding a grudge against the US (Cuba, Venezuela, Iran...), and then you have far right groups worldwide gaining support after the initial shock. And they are more sympathetic towards Russia; it is scary to watch. Domestically in Russia, those who believe the war is just buy into the whole "the West is in the wrong", so "we have the moral right to do whatever" thing.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 21:56
  • Interestingly, the underlying assumption here is that it was Russian propaganda that swayed the public opinion; I have been mostly watching liberal American late night shows for a good while with minimal exposure to political coverage outside of them, and have found myself increasingly disagreeing with their one-sided take to the point some of it seemed deeply unethical. I still believe the sentiment "another war is inevitable so better prepare" was a self-fulfilling prophecy and the disaster could be averted though. There is enough blame to go around, but two wrongs do not make a right.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 22:24
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    @Lodinn updated answer to reflect our disagreement. I agree that we had a lot of "certainty" thrown our way during the Iraq war. Obvious "facts" that became less factual as time went on. While I fully support Ukraine I also remember getting hoodwinked in 2003 and tend to examine at least certain coverage of this war with a certain degree of cynicism/suspicion. At the same time, there are lots and lots of testimonials to Russian misbehavior in this war, so I can't see how a coherent deception, at this scale could hold up to scrutiny. Plus the whole "Nazi Ukraine" is just over the top. Commented Dec 2, 2022 at 23:07
  • Thank you. Absolutely; they gave up on coherent deception in favor of post-truth. Come to think of it, there is an argument to be made that the polarization of the political debate is one of the results of propaganda, so the German results could be said to be caused by it regardless. I must say western media seems completely befuddled at times: a good example would be referendums. Most major outlets called them a sham, but then entertained the notion this was the way people voted at a gunpoint, thus taking the bait. Fully taking in that the results were completely made up was too much.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 0:07
  • Nothing in the senate resolution authorizing the invasion was false. Some of it, one can argue, was misleading, and there were other assertions made outside of the resolution, but the claims about WMD given as the official reason for the invasion were absolutely not lies. Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 2:03

We outsiders are all spectators. Only the invaded can speak of the real "indignation" - I spent my early years in Iraq during Saddam's worst days - here's what life was like

If you are asking whether some Americans were pissed at their government for invading Iraq (whatever the pretext), yes they were. Protests against the Iraq War cites that in 2003, around the beginning of the Iraq war, anti-war protestors were a vocal minority. But by 2007, (according to a Gallup poll) most Americans believed the war was a "mistake". Nevertheless, the Iraq War didn't generate as much political agitation in the US as the Vietnam war, unlike in Europe which did see large anti-war demonstrations.

What about today in Russia vis the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Currently, the support for the invasion to fight "Ukranian Nazis", integrate Crimea with Russia and annex other Russian speaking border locales in Ukraine is quite huge - Russians think they’re engaged in a heroic struggle with the West.

Now, the question is will this support last? Or will it wane like it did in America with the Vietnam war, the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war?

It's hard to say because for the Americans all these wars were being fought in a far off foreign country, against foreigners that Americans couldn't culturally relate to, and the war itself didn't really endanger ordinary resident Americans. The Russians however have a more vested interest in Ukraine as they believe they are fighting their own people whom they know and once respected (Ukraine is considered as a "brother nation" by Russians). And they genuinely believe they have a claim to the land they are trying to seize and annexe. Moreover, the Russian politicians and military are convinced that these annexations are strategically vital to their national security. (Americans probably experienced something like this only during the Cuban Missile Crisis and during 9/11).

But of course, historically, any war that drags on tends to become unpopular. Especially if people are forced to fight these - drafts during the Vietnam war proved hugely unpopular and Russians are now being conscripted (and some are definitely trying to dodge it). The Russian leaders are aware that long-drawn out conflicts isn't politically good for them and as per a Russian propaganda news site, Russian politicians are already trying to prepare their citizens and are warning them that the war may go on for another few years - A confession from Putin suggests that the Ukraine conflict could last for years.

Note: Many western media do acknowledge that there is public support among Russians for the war. (See here, here, here, here, and here for more info). They also try to be dismissive about it by claiming that it is so because of strong government propaganda. That's misleading and dangerous because it tries to minimise the fact that people believe the propaganda and are convinced by it.

That said, new propaganda (like trying to convince people of a new political situation, like a war) is often difficult to sustain in the long-term in the face of reality. When the Americans failed to achieve the objectives of their war, and the returning soldiers revealed the ugly truth of war to the general public, popular leaders and government lost support of the people.

Both Ukrainian and Russian leaders will similarly soon face this, especially if the war continues to drag on for a long time.

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    Before downvoting, consider that this is perhaps a reasonable explanation of the "indignation quotient" from the PoV of the invaders. It starts out saying why Americans on the whole weren't all that negative re. Iraq War at the start, then it veered towards unpopularity. And why there is support in Russia (not totally convinced myself that the support is all that solid, even before September) now, but that this answer does not expect that support to last. Like it or not, there isn't that much indignation in Russia right now, and this a possible answer as to why. Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 23:25
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Yes, that is exactly the idea I was trying to convey. On public support for the war among the Russians, I have updated my post with more reference and included my thoughts on the limitations of propaganda during war times that is relevant to the question.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 2:08

One thing that built indignation about the Iraq war of 2003 was that it was clear for some months that it was likely to happen, that it was likely a case of making aggressive war, and that the people making the decisions knew this, but were ignoring the issue, or constructing flimsy rationalisations.

In comparison, most people weren't aware that Russia was going to escalate its conflict with Ukraine until it happened. This was an obvious case of aggressive war, and Europe and North America responded to it in a reasonable way, in accordance with their commitments to NATO and the UN Charter.

There was little outrage in North America or Europe against our own governments: that was confined to people who will support any cause that opposes their government, and people who were part of the Russian propaganda system. Outrage against one's own government, in states where this is permitted, can readily be much more conspicuous than indignation against another government.

The politics of the Ukraine conflict are more like the Gulf War of 1990-91. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was obviously aggressive war, and it was both moral and politic to oppose it. The military and geographic circumstances are very different, of course: this analogy can't be pushed any further.

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