Study: Americans Back Military Action -- in Select Cases

Study: Americans Back Military Action -- in Select Cases

By Adam O'Neal - September 17, 2014

Conventional wisdom holds that most Americans, wary of entanglements after more than a dozen years at war, favor the United States playing a less significant role on the world stage. But reality appears to be more complicated than that, according to a new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. 

“While weary of large-scale military interventions, [Americans] support the use of force when critical national interests are threatened and favor a broad array of nonmilitary forms of international engagement,” according to the report, which is titled “Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment.” 

The report drew heavily from survey data collected by the group this May. In particular, the research found that about 60 percent of Americans favor the United States keeping an “active role in world affairs.” 

Military intervention, however, was unpopular in many circumstances. 

Only 30 percent of respondents favored military intervention if Russia invaded Ukraine. Seventeen percent backed sending U.S. troops to Syria. Only a quarter would support a plan to arm Syrian rebels. 

Americans are also not particularly keen on maintaining their current military commitments: Just one-third of survey participants said they support keeping troops in Afghanistan beyond this year. 

Some use-of-force scenarios were popular with the public, however. Sixty-nine percent supported intervention to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- though a greater majority backed diplomatic efforts to stop the regime from getting the bomb. Other strong majorities also backed airstrikes and assassinations of terrorist leaders -- and the use of ground troops to prevent genocide. 

Republicans -- once known as a party that almost uniformly advocated muscular foreign policy -- are now more likely than Democrats to be leery of intervention. Forty percent of Republicans say the U.S. should “stay out” of world affairs; only 35 percent of Democrats say the same thing. 

About two-thirds of Americans believe that globalization is “mostly a good thing.” 

According to the report, however, the most “striking” finding is that overall American attitudes toward engaging the world “have not changed all that much since the Council conducted its first public opinion survey 40 years ago.” 

The survey of 2,108 national adults was conducted May 6-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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