It seems that the anti-interventionist attitude of young Americans has faded, according to the results of the Harvard Public Opinion Project’s spring 2015 survey. Nearly 60 percent of respondents disapprove of the Obama administration’s management of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), while, strikingly, almost 60 percent of respondents support sending ground troops to fight ISIS.
However, we should be wary of reading the results as a complete repudiation of the Obama administration’s foreign policy and a vindication of George W. Bush’s policies. Bush’s preemptive invasion of Iraq is not exactly hailed as a model of strategic decision-making today, as only 23 percent of young Americans support preemptive attacks on potentially hostile nations. ISIS may represent a unique case seen as deserving of all military options, including ground troops. After all, the chilling videos of American hostages being brutally murdered by ISIS troops have sparked national outrage and led some leaders such as John McCain to call for the deployment of U.S. ground troops to combat ISIS.
Leaders such as McCain have repeatedly denounced President Obama for “leading from behind,” and perhaps this criticism has resonated among young Americans. More of them—35 percent—believe the United States should take the lead in dealing with international crises, which is a 10-point increase from the 2014 survey result. We might expect such an increase to coincide with a decline in trust in international institutions, yet 37 percent of respondents said that they trust the United Nations to do the right thing most or all of the time, which is the same level of trust expressed in previous years’ surveys.
It is not clear that foreign policy interventionism will be as crucial an issue as it was in the last presidential election without an incumbent in 2008. Perhaps the most significant policy issue contributing to Barack Obama’s victories in the 2008 Democratic primary and general election was his disapproval of the Iraq War. In a post-Iraq and nearly post-Afghanistan America, interventionist policy has largely fallen out of favor among the American public as it has seen the devastation of wars without clear exit strategies and the troubles of insurgencies. The president has remained reluctant to engage in Middle Eastern ground wars, despite increasing support for a ground campaign against ISIS.
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SOURCE: Harvard Political Review