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Public Opinion and the War Against ISIS

Shibley Telhami relays [1] the details of a new survey of American views on the war against ISIS. He notes the continued opposition to sending ground forces into combat:

First, if current efforts to defeat ISIL fail, most Americans say they would still oppose deploying ground forces against ISIL, although a significant minority—41 percent— express openness to more extensive military engagement. But there is a significant difference across party lines that is bound to influence the way the presidential primary debates play themselves out on this issue: A majority of Republicans, 53 percent, say they would support sending ground forces if current efforts fail to defeat ISIL, compared with only 36 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Independents.

There continues to be a noticeable gap here between the great threat from ISIS that most Americans claim to perceive and the means most are willing to use in the war against the group. I submit that this reflects a belief among many Americans that the threat to the U.S. and our allies isn’t really that great and therefore doesn’t require the larger commitment that deploying ground forces would represent. According to the survey, most respondents that favor sending ground forces don’t take his position because they think ISIS poses a threat to our allies or “vital interests,” but because they still associate the group with Al Qaeda or because they see the group as being especially ruthless. Since the war isn’t necessary to keep the U.S. secure, it is discouraging that there is still so much support for escalation, but that continues to be a minority position by a decent margin.

Telhami is right that there is a difference across party lines on this question, but what is more interesting here is how relatively little Republican support there is for sending ground forces. There is a bare majority in favor of doing this, but almost half of Republican respondents (46%) are opposed as well. Republicans are much more likely than other Americans to favor this option, but there is much less support for this option than the party’s hawkish leaders would like to believe. If the survey is accurate, Republicans are split almost evenly over support for escalating the war, so there is a large bloc of Republicans in the country that supports this war only so long as it doesn’t involve using ground forces.

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7 Comments To "Public Opinion and the War Against ISIS"

#1 Comment By Charlieford On January 9, 2015 @ 3:38 pm

I think Obama’s figured out that the American people are pretty Goldilocks-ish.

They don’t want another full-on invasion of the Middle East, but they don’t want us sitting on our hands while a band of psychopaths runs around beheading people at will. They don’t want to hear we’re “containing” the bad guys, they want to hear about “victory” and “defeat.” But they aren’t signing up for the effort, and they won’t get upset if all we actually do is, in fact contain/degrade them, while still talking in the old-fashioned language of no compromises and heroic efforts.

Several people have compared Obama to Eisenhower, and here we see the logic again. Ike understood people preferred “roll-back” and “no substitute for victory” rhetoric, but were happy with containment in fact, and would certainly balk at paying the price for a roll-back campaign.

Ike was a smart guy.

#2 Comment By Ken Hoop On January 9, 2015 @ 6:48 pm

I’m heartened by the poll results.
But being the skeptic and conspiracy theorist, I wonder if this is not part of a ripe state of affairs for the interventionist hawks to manipulate a stealth hawk into the presidency.
Like, perhaps, Rand Paul?

#3 Comment By Alex On January 10, 2015 @ 10:47 am

The best way to win against ISIS is to support Assad, Putin and Iran clear and simple.

#4 Comment By Charlieford On January 10, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

“The best way to win against ISIS is to support Assad, Putin and Iran clear and simple.”

Not so simple. That’s a perfect prescription for hardening Sunni attitudes of being under attack, especially if the US adds to the mix by aiding the Iraqi government. That makes them even more attracted to the IS.

#5 Comment By Rossbach On January 10, 2015 @ 5:10 pm

Why is it the responsibility of the United States government to “fix” problems in the Middle East? Why could we not leave that task to the people who live there?

#6 Comment By stoic in sc On January 11, 2015 @ 9:17 pm

“Why is it the responsibility of the United States government to “fix” problems in the Middle East? “

It isn’t.

The longer we stay there, and the more people we kill, the more danger we will be of another revenge terror attack like 9/11. And then the cycle of reprisal and further terror attacks will continue.

We should clear out of the Middle East. The politicians and interest groups working to further entangle us there are putting America in harm’s way.

#7 Comment By Innocent Blood On January 11, 2015 @ 9:47 pm

@Rossbach:”Why is it the responsibility of the United States government to “fix” problems in the Middle East?”

We don’t fix problems, we make them worse. While the Paris murderers were gearing up to kill a dozen or so innocent or not-so-innocent Frenchmen, Mr. Obama seems to have (hopefully accidentally) killed 50 Syrian civilians.

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