NEW YORK – Americans are war-happy. That’s the conclusion Kevin Drum draws from polls that suggest the bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq are popular, and that a large minority would support a ground attack.
It’s as if we’ve learned nothing from the past decade. Our politicians are in love with war. The public is in love with war. And the press is really in love with war. It just never ends.
Greg Sargent has thrown some cold water on Drum’s numbers.
So who is correct?
In a sense, they both are. On the one hand, people seem quite willing to react to the latest apparent threat by telling pollsters they support military action.
On the other hand, there are plenty of indicators that war isn’t really that popular; even military action in Afghanistan has polled badly for some time, despite the connections (dim though they may be at this point) between that conflict and the 9/11 attacks.
Politicians should remember, too, that the Iraq War probably started costing George W. Bush support by 2004 and surely hurt Republicans in 2006 and 2008. So those initial enthusiastic responses don’t necessarily predict public willingness to put up with actual war.
There’s another way to look at this: It may be that most Americans just don’t care much when they aren’t being pressed by pollsters.
There are no huge rallies against military action nor is there any reported surge in enlistment.
It’s not even clear how many voters know that U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan — or how many voters knew before the latest airstrikes that U.S. troops had left Iraq.
(How about some polling on basic facts about foreign policy?).
All this may simply reflect what we’ve known for a long time: Without a draft or full mobilization, wars only touch a relatively small segment of the U.S. population. Drone wars or airstrikes are even less likely to “feel” like war to most Americans.
So these conflicts may become just another issue that people only think about when pollsters call, but don’t care enough about to take political action.
Of course, voter indifference has important policy consequences. And it’s appropriate to wonder about the ethics of this lack of interest.
But that’s not the same as saying the U.S. is a nation of warmongers.
Jonathan Bernstein (Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net) is a Bloomberg View columnist covering U.S. politics.
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