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20 August 2021

Is the Afghanistan crisis changing UK attitudes to military intervention?

New polling suggests a majority of the British public believe the West has failed Afghan women and children.

By Ben Walker

The 457 British servicemen and women who lost their lives in the dust of Afghanistan died for nothing. That is the view of 59 per cent of Britons, according to a JL Partners poll taken pn 18 August. Almost two thirds (65 per cent) say the West has let Afghan women and children down.

Furthermore, while the British public is less sure about whether the country should have sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place, it is in agreement on refugees: 53 per cent support the view that the UK “should do more [in] accepting refugees fleeing the Taliban”.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan marks a turning point in public opinion
Share of UK voters who agree or disagree with the produced statement.
JL Partners Polls — surveyed 18 Aug 2021

Britons have been increasingly ambivalent about Western intervention in the country, as have American voters. But the findings from the JLP poll expose how quickly public opinion can shift.

Fifty per cent think the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was the wrong decision; 27 per cent, meanwhile, believe it to be right. In addition, 44 per cent of Britons believe the US pull-out means that the US can no longer “claim to lead the free world”. Just 16 per cent think it still can.

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A majority (53 per cent) also concede that UK troops may eventually be sent back into Afghanistan. And when it comes to how well Britain’s leaders have handled the crisis, the country is unimpressed: 44 per cent say Boris Johnson has handled the crisis poorly, compared to just 13 per cent who say he has handled it well.

Political battles in Westminster over interventions in Libya and Syria did little to change overall public opinion in terms of voting intention numbers. Very rarely since the last Labour government has an overseas conflict defined the national mood or voter movement at election time. Britons, for the most part, have been sceptics of intervention.

For the country to now be generally opposed to the military withdrawal from Afghanistan marks a notable change from past attitudes. Britain has also occupied the role of spectator, accepting the lead of the US rather than orchestrating the withdrawal, something that might help shift public opinion towards interventionism, cynicism, or both.

[See also: Why Tories are in despair over Boris Johnson’s handling of the Afghanistan crisis]

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