Should U.S. butt out of international conflicts?
April 30th, 2014
01:09 PM ET
3 months ago

Should U.S. butt out of international conflicts?

Washington (CNN) - Stay out.

That seems to increasingly be the message from Americans when it comes to U.S. involvement in global hotspots, such as the crisis in Ukraine and the bloody civil war in Syria.

Forty-seven percent of people questioned in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal national poll say the United States should be less active in foreign affairs, with 19% saying the country should be more active and three in ten saying the current level is just about right. That's a switch from September 2001, right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when 37% said the United States should be more active and 14% said the country should be less active in world affairs, with 44% saying the current level was appropriate.

Other recent surveys also indicated a desire by many Americans to stay out of overseas conflicts. Sixty-two percent of people questioned last week in a USA Today/Pew Research Center poll said they were opposed to Washington sending arms and military supplies to Ukraine's government, as it deals with pro-Russian separatists.

By a 54%-39% margin, voters in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted late last month said it was more important for the U.S. "not to get too involved" in the Ukraine crisis rather than "take a firm stand against Russian actions."

And 61% questioned in a CBS News survey from late March said the United States doesn't have a responsibility to do something about the situation between Russia and Ukraine, with only around three in ten saying that Washington had a responsibility to get involved.

"American attitudes have changed since the days after the 9/11 attacks when an interventionist mindset was the norm," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took care of that, reminding Americans that military actions often have unforeseen consequences."

While the polls indicate many Americans want less U.S. involvement in international affairs, they also suggest that the public's not happy with how President Barack Obama's been handling global hotspots, including the crisis in Ukraine.

Less than four in ten in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey say they approve of how the President's handling foreign policy, an all-time low for Obama in that poll. And according to the ABC News/Washington Post survey released Tuesday, only 34% of the public approves of how the President's dealing with the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, down eight points from early March.

Opposition to the Iraq War was a central theme in then-presidential candidate Obama's successful campaign for the White House in the 2008 election. In his recent week-long trip to Asia, the President defended his current strategy in dealing with international conflicts.

"For some reason, many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven't really learned the lesson of the last decade and they just keep playing the same note over and over again. Why? I don't know but my job as commander-in-chief is to look at what is going to advance our security interests over the long term. To keep our military in reserve for when we absolutely need it. There are going to be times where there are disasters and difficulties and challenges around the world and not all of those are going to be immediately solvable by us," Obama said at a news conference on Monday in the Philippines.

Five takeaways from Obama's Philippines news conference

"That attitude mirrors a poll finding in late 2011, when more than seven in ten Americans said that American military force should only be used as a last resort, after economic and diplomatic efforts have failed," Holland notes. "The problem for Obama is that the public may be just as unhappy with the consequences of inaction as they would have been with any military action."


Filed under: Foreign Policy • Poll • President Obama • Ukraine
soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. Malory Archer

    Yes. Yes we should.

    April 30, 2014 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  2. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Unless our safety and well being is at stake, or atrocities like genocide are being committed, we should stay out. Of course, the GOP sure loves to profit from these endless wars. Right Cheney, McCain and Graham?

    April 30, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  3. just saying

    yes, we should just sit back and watch everybody kill everybody else and watch one country after another invade their weaker neighbors. what could possibly go wrong. after all that is the obama doctrine. the big bad usa is evil and needs to stop getting involved. and just deal with the messy outcome. we can officially call it the obama ostrich doctrine. not until the armed invaders are at our borders do we need to be concerned.

    April 30, 2014 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  4. John

    Jeff Brown in Jersey
    or atrocities like genocide are being committed, we should stay out.
    ---

    What does a genocide being committed in Africa need to concern me or anybody else? If we don't care about a major invasion occurring in Europe, why would we care about Africa? Or South America? Or Asia?

    The new appraoch is let them all kill each other as long it is done using bullets and not WMD. We'll just send the survivors tents and some food and our work will be done.

    April 30, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  5. Rick McDaniel

    It already has.

    April 30, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  6. Malory Archer

    just saying

    the big bad usa is evil and needs to stop getting involved.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Yeah, except no. We're broke and can no longer afford to go around the world propping up despotic regimes and blowing up everyone those despots declare their enemies. It only serves to further hurt us economically while creating even more people who hate us and want to do us harm.

    April 30, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  7. jk sfl kick the koch stooges gop out in november

    Obama is doing what the majority of voters want, NOT WHAT THE GOP WANTS<TO BAD GOP

    April 30, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    "By a 54%-39% margin, voters in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted late last month said it was more important for the U.S. "not to get too involved" in the Ukraine crisis rather than "take a firm stand against Russian actions.""
    ------------------------–
    Which is exactly what the U.S. policy has been, except only 34% of those polled approve of the President actually doing that.

    Can you say "damned if do, and damned if you don't"?

    April 30, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  9. 2_indy1600

    Does financial warfare count? Seems like the only good option.

    April 30, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  10. rs

    As Republicans have successfully gutted our best foreign policy tool (i.e. the Treasury); and because needs are so great at home, perhaps it is time to let America step back from years and years of intervention except for those of most grave significance until such time as our own house is back in order.

    April 30, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  11. Ellie

    The 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Ukraine gave up its nukes in exchange for a promise of protection if its sovereignty was attacked & the US signed means the US has an obligation.

    How can we ask other nations to give up their nukes if we don't?

    April 30, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  12. Tommy G

    2_indy1600
    Does financial warfare count? Seems like the only good option.
    ---

    Why damage our economy? The Europeans certainly don't care enough to damage theirs. Just let Putin retake all of the countries the Soviet Union once controlled. Everythin gwill be just fine.

    It is the new Obama/Clinton Doctrine called "What Difference Does It All Make".

    April 30, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  13. jasmine

    yes!

    April 30, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  14. Adam

    I'm not even going to read the article.. YES!

    April 30, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  15. Brian Smith

    It is the "Department of Defense" – not the "Department of Global Enforcement of America's Interests"

    April 30, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  16. craig

    YES, let me repeat YES

    April 30, 2014 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  17. surfy6

    Should U.S. butt out of international conflicts? YES

    April 30, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  18. yolanda

    Yesterday's NYT David Brooks op-ed page article"saving the System" addresses this issue. Worth a read regardless of political leaning.

    April 30, 2014 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    just saying wrote:

    yes, we should just sit back and watch everybody kill everybody else and watch one country after another invade their weaker neighbors. what could possibly go wrong. after all that is the obama doctrine. the big bad usa is evil and needs to stop getting involved. and just deal with the messy outcome. we can officially call it the obama ostrich doctrine. not until the armed invaders are at our borders do we need to be concerned.
    -------------------------------------
    Yup, sit back and watch everybody invade their neighbors and kill everybody. Why so much concern for Ukraine? Where was your outrage for Georgia, back in 2008? Seeing how "sit back and watch" has pretty much been the U.S. policy towards African nations since forever, why don't you complain about that, too?

    What name should we give such a policy? One that seems to only kick in when folks from certain areas are concerned.

    April 30, 2014 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  20. Shinea

    That mindset didn't serve us very well before the last few wars, why does anyone think it will now? There's only one world and we all have to live on it together, ignoring problems on one part of it will not make it disappear.

    Just a quick look at our own inner cities will show what results from decades of leaving the problems for others to deal with. It doesn't go away, it spreads.

    April 30, 2014 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  21. Marty

    We just need to pick our HOTSPOTS carefully. The Ukraine? I mean, yeah, I would prefer Russia stay out, but it is of no economic or strategic importance to the US. Why not help those in our own sphere of influence like Venezuela and soon, Cuba. We can help make a real positive change in those places.

    April 30, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  22. Dragon

    @ Ellie
    True! Also, reunification of Germany and dissolution of the Warsaw Pact called for no expansion of Nato into easter Europe (my understanding is that such an agreement was also signed). Yet, that contract was squashed and Nato is literally on Russian borders. Unfortunately, world law and diplomacy is reduced to shambles and I just hope this "might makes right" will stop on both sides (Russia and USA). Of course, the realist in me says "fat chance" it will ever happen because bullies react only when someone blackens their eye(s). That goes for Russia, that goes for the US.

    April 30, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  23. RK

    We should and in addition we should withdraw all foreign aid to those countries that pretend to be allies when in reality they are not. It is also time to realize that the enemies of the cold war have not changed and never will change.

    April 30, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  24. kennyzales

    Of course we should stay involved! We're the richest country in the world and all our citizens share an unprecedented amount of wealth and prosperity so we can certainly afford to fund peace-keeping operations throughout the world, right? I mean, when was the last time you heard an American complain about the economy, their wages or prosperity, or incredibly high standard of living? With practically everyone living in opulence, Americans have become accustomed to our global leadership position: We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, and the list goes on. Of course we can continue to afford playing the global policeman. That's always been our role and the rest of the world is more than happy to have us open our wallets to give a little helping hand.

    April 30, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  25. RJ

    The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
    -Martin Luther King, Jr.

    April 30, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
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