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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.

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.

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.

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