Americans Sour on Endless War

The Right thinks it has a winning issue in mocking President Obama for “leading from behind” on international crises like last year’s uprising in Libya. But a new study finds Americans leery of more war, supportive of diplomacy and eager for less military spending, says Lawrence S. Wittner.

By Lawrence S. Wittner

In the midst of a nationwide election campaign in which many politicians trumpet their support for the buildup and deployment of U.S. military power around the world, the American public’s disagreement with such measures is quite remarkable. Indeed, many signs point to the fact that most Americans want to avoid new wars, reduce military spending, and support international cooperation.

The latest evidence along these lines is a nationwide opinion survey just released as a report (“Foreign Policy in the New Millennium”) by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Conducted in late May and early June 2012, the survey resulted in some striking findings.

A U.S. soldier in Afghanistan fires an MA-2, .50-caliber machine gun, in a training exercise at the U.S. base in Afghanistan's Farah province on Sept. 22, 2012. (Photo credit: U.S. Defense Department photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lovelady)

One is that most Americans are quite disillusioned with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade. Asked about these conflicts, 67 percent of respondents said they had not been worth fighting. Indeed, 69 percent said that, despite the war in Afghanistan, the United States was no safer from terrorism.

Naturally, these attitudes about military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan fed into opinions about future military involvement. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed favored bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by 2014 or by an earlier date. Majorities also opposed maintaining long-term military bases in either country. And 71 percent agreed that “the experience of the Iraq war should make nations more cautious about using military force to deal with rogue states.”

Certainly Americans seem to believe that their own military footprint in the world should be reduced. In the Chicago Council survey, 78 percent of respondents said that the United States was playing the role of a world policeman more than it should. Presented with a variety of situations, respondents usually stated that they opposed the use of U.S. military force.

For example, a majority opposed a U.S. military response to a North Korean invasion of South Korea. Or, to take an issue that is frequently discussed today Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons 70 percent of respondents opposed a U.S. military strike against that nation with the objective of destroying its nuclear facilities.

Yes, admittedly, a small majority (53 percent) thought that maintaining superior military power was a “very important goal.” But this response was down by 14 points from 2002. Furthermore, to accomplish deficit reduction, 68 percent of respondents favored cutting U.S. spending on the military up 10 points from 2010.

Nor are these opinions contradictory. After all, U.S. military spending is so vast more than five times that of the number-two military spender, China that substantial cuts in the U.S. military budget can be made without challenging U.S. military superiority.

It should be noted that American preferences are anti-military rather than “isolationist.” The report by the Chicago Council observes: “As they increasingly seek to cut back on foreign expenditures and avoid military entanglement whenever possible, Americans are broadly supportive of nonmilitary forms of international engagement and problem solving.” These range from “diplomacy, alliances, and international treaties to economic aid and decision making through the UN.”

For example, the survey found that 84 percent of respondents favored the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (still un-ratified by the U.S. Senate), 70 percent favored the International Criminal Court treaty (from which the United States was withdrawn by President George W. Bush), and 67 percent favored a treaty to cope with climate change by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

When asked about China, a nation frequently criticized by U.S. pundits and politicians alike, 69 percent of respondents believed that the United States should engage in friendly cooperation with that country.

The “isolationist” claim falls particularly flat when one examines American attitudes toward the United Nations. The Chicago Council survey found that 56 percent of respondents agreed that, when dealing with international problems, the United States should be “more willing to make decisions within the United Nations,” even if that meant that the United States would not always get its way.

Overall, then, Americans favor a less militarized U.S. government approach to world affairs than currently exists. Perhaps the time has come for politicians to catch up with them!

Dr. Lawrence S. Wittner ( is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual (University of Tennessee Press).

6 comments for “Americans Sour on Endless War

  1. clarence swinney
    September 27, 2012 at 11:01

    Robert& sons please promo this wh and dnc etc needs in every paper

    2001—1850 (end of Clinton last Budget 9-30-01)
    2009—3510 (end of Bush last budget 9-30-09)
    2012—3720 (est)
    2013—3800 (budgeted) (end of Obama last budget 9-30-13)

    President Bush
    1850 to 3510= (+90%)

    President Obama
    3510 to 3800= (+8.6%)
    President Obama Exec. Order 13589-”Promoting Efficient Spending”
    has paid off on goal of 8 Billion reduction by end of his term.

  2. incontinent reader
    September 25, 2012 at 21:07

    Good article. It’s nice to read somewhere that there appears to be a change in the attitude of the American public regarding the war in Afghanistan. Yet, the public still seems to get more disjointed about NFL officiating than the devastation of war, and Congress only responds to squeaky wheels, especially if they also are getting run over by them. Moreover, any optimism should be tempered by the American public’s response in the same survey indicating support of a No-Fly Zone, sanctions and limited intervention in Syria, which tells you that at some level the Administration and MSM propaganda machines are still working their disingenuous magic.

    I was unable to obtain the report from the link at the beginning of the article, but another way to access it and get additional background is at:

  3. G-Mail
    September 25, 2012 at 17:36

    While we are going around the world thinking we can scare people, China is going around the world BUYING IT!
    Guess who is going to win?
    And, while we think we are scaring people with our phoney might, better ask the Taliban or ElQueda if they are imppressed.The Viet Cong proved us wrong years ago but we did not learn anything from that.

  4. rlaing
    September 25, 2012 at 13:11

    Fortunately for its leaders, the US is nominally but not functionally a democracy, so what the public wants or thinks doesn’t matter all that much.

  5. JonnyJames
    September 25, 2012 at 12:48

    Imperial wars, hundreds of military bases all over the world, trillions in debt racked up due to wars, military, so-called security, so-called intelligence etc.

    The US spends more on the military-security-surveillance state than all other countries combined. (also look at foreign military aid, grants etc.)

    Like in Orwell’s 1984, war is not to “win”, war is an excuse for the kleptocracy to steal taxpayer monies and give it to their corporate cronies.

    Gen. Smedley Butler’s speech “War is a Racket” in 1933 details this. War has always been a racket. Thucydides’ History of the Pelopennesian War from the 4th century BC recognized this.

    Unfortunately, US public opinion can be easily swayed by some more blatant lies (recall the numerous and oft repeated lies during the run-up to Afghanistan and Iraq invasions?, or during Vietnam? Gulf of Tonkin indicents?)

    People have been conditioned by the Telescreen to forget history and believe in lies.

    No matter which representative of the oligarchy is “elected”, foreign policy advances seamlessly. The last 30 years ought to have made that crystal clear.

    The only countries left on the PNAC neocon list are Syria and Iran. I would love to be proven wrong, but does anyone want to bet that the US/NATO imperial war machine will be in action in one or both of those countries after the “elections”?

    • Rosemary Molloy
      September 29, 2012 at 16:53

      I’m sorry to say I agree with every word you wrote. Lots of people do, but so what? Too many others mindlessly believe what out “leaders” tell us. The pious sdmonition, “VOTE!” is trumpeted from left to right and back again, espeically when it comes to a presidential election. Yet the only candidates with a prayer of winning are mirror twins: One is a mass murderer and the other aspires to be a mass murderer. We’re screwed and screwed good, all right.

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