War on terror fatigue: US and Australian attitudes 10 years after 9/11

3 June 2011

A decade after the 11 September attacks, people are growing cynical about the war on terror.
A decade after the 11 September attacks, people are growing cynical about the war on terror.

Many Americans and Australians think the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not been worth the cost and are not helping to win the war on terrorism, according to new research by the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

Almost a decade after the 11 September attacks, the US Studies Centre has conducted a major survey of Australian and American attitudes towards security and the war on terror. The responses, gathered after Osama bin Laden's death, show that the vast majority of Australians (63 percent) think the war on terrorism will never end, with only 30 percent of Americans and 20 percent of Australians confident the war is being won.

"Both Australians and Americans are clearly sick and tired after the 9/11 decade of war," says Professor Geoffrey Garrett, chief executive of the centre.

"They doubt the prohibitive costs have been well spent and don't think the west is winning. People have moved on from the 9/11 decade to focus on their economic anxieties after the global financial crisis."

The research findings show:

  • Historical significance of 9/11: Australians are more likely to select the 2001 attack on New York City and Washington DC as the "most important historical event" from list including key events in World War Two and the growth of the Internet.
  • Economy trumps terrorism as political issue: Only 4 percent of Australian and 3 percent of American respondents selected terrorism as the "most important" problem facing their respective countries today. In both cases just 1 percent nominate the war in Afghanistan. Economic concerns are paramount.
  • Bipartisan consensus: The extent to which ALP and Coalition supporters tend to agree on matters to do with terrorism is striking. Democrats and Republicans are less likely to agree but the tendency towards bipartisanship is at odds with other issues in American public opinion. The Greens and Tea Partiers are the political outliers on these issues.

The online surveys were led by Visiting Professor at the United States Studies Centre and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, Simon Jackman, and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, Lynn Vavreck. They canvassed the opinions of 2210 Australians and 900 Americans between 2 and 18 May 2011.

The US Studies Centre will also mark 10 years since the 11 September attacks by hosting a two-day summit, on Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 June titled The 9/11 Decade: How Everything Changed. It will look at shifts in US domestic and international affairs in the first epoch of the new millennium.

Douglas Feith, who worked closely with Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W Bush in defining the US response to the attacks of 11 September, will speak about the war on terrorism; US Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell will discuss the US in the Asia-Pacific region via live video link; and the summit dinner will feature a panel on the 9/11 decade with former high-level Australian and US government officials, Nicholas Burns, Gareth Evans AO QC and Robert Hill.

This is an opportunity to join government decision-makers past and present, thought leaders and academic experts from around the world to consider the geopolitical upheaval of this decade and to look at what is still to come.

To register or for more information, visit the US Studies Centre website.

Media enquiries: Rachel Gleeson, 0403 067 342, 9351 4312,