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).


8 comments for “Americans Sour on Endless War

  1. September 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    On Sunday, in an interview with David Ignatius, the Armenian Jew columnist with the daily Washington Post, said that after America’s defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan and the country facing “back-breaking expenses” – many Americans have turned against Washington’s blind support for the Zionist entity.

    “Will the people of the US accept meddling and intervention in the affairs of others? I don’t believe so. I believe the people of the US are peace-loving people,” said Ahmadinejad.

  2. JonnyJames
    September 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    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 4:53 pm

      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.

  3. rlaing
    September 25, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    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.

  4. G-Mail
    September 25, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    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.

  5. incontinent reader
    September 25, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    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:

  6. jerry gates
    September 26, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    President Ahmadinejad, I believe the people of the US are peace loving people….

    I believe this as well, the results of this poll, while perhaps not being a perfect translation of American opinion in every strata of the social order, 99% of the populous has been defined by itself as feeling a bit disenfranchised from their dreams due to selfish zionist desires as yet unrequited in their final aspects. How much of this horrible war making must United States Citizens endure for a nation where if they arent Jewish they aren’t even welcome to live there, but expected to sacrifice their lives and reputation as peace loving peoples concerned when their neighbors hurt, more than compelled by a zionist false premise to hurt their neighbors for a selfish dream of world hegemony.

    A staggering realization is about to beset a nation of class shape shifter, descending down the ladders of promise rather than ascending, people know when their lives are getting harder and even the most uneducated of supposed hillbillys is indebted to self to find out where their dreams have suffered or died to someone elses that doesnt have the courage to even admit that their stealing the national dream of those who fucking earned theirs the hard way, by working for it with their dirty hands and tired feet.

    Somebody grows the wheat for the flour that makes the queens cake, someone raises the cows that sit on the plates of young men and their paychecks and friends out on dates, someone cooks the stuff that comes in the cans, made in Taiwan by slaves in slum stands, someone fires the hearth and the cricibles up to cook up new new for no underwire cups, somebody thinks up the crap that we write her in blogs, then extrapolates more crap till their brains get all clogged, then ponder and fret and we know what we get which is zero response from these ingrates and preps, so yes, somebody is angry as hell and their not gonna take this game of three shells, we want proof that you assholes are ripping us off and if we find it,s your and like just like Abrahmoff, so get ready to rumble you rumbling drunks, were the ones you fear most were the hard working monks! So it’s justice for them and justice for us, we do it ourselves, it is written, we must we will overcome treason, and graft and corruption, understand who is the problem and bust them, were the ones who get dirty and well dirty you if you mess with the clowns in my part of the zoo, dont makes get rough dont tempt us to blurt, dont try anything stupid cause we know where you live, weve been watching you too but were inclined to forgive to buck up your limp pasties were ringing the bell were ready to rumble and madder than hell! dont reach for that gun cause we own that brand were remington trained not remington rand, we need your attention so please concentrate, the ticker is taping the people cant wait, if you screw us again, and deny us our peace, the flying monkeys fly and their mayhem wont cease, till you begging for mercy ,redemption and love, then we have you,as ALLAH descends from above, it your ass if you dont pay attention and learn,the wheat to the storehouse the tares to the burn.

  7. clarence swinney
    September 27, 2012 at 11:01 am

    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.

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