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. truth hurts but reality bites

    The time to have been engaged in the Ukraine was well before Russia and Ukraine got to this point. Obama and his former, failed Secretary of State Hilary Clinton should have been engaged in the Ukraine and helping to incorporate them into NATO and help develop their economy. They should have been guiding and helping in the development of a capable Ukrainian military. What we have now is what 5.5 years of neglect gets you, a total mess and a disaster for the Ukraine. Instead, they thought their Russian Reset policy and being nice to Putin in the hopes he would return the favor was going to save the day. WRONG. Putin viewed it as weakness.

    Obama and all his supporters wring their hands and say there isn't anything we can do now. Yes, that is correct but there was most definitely something you COULD have been doing over the last 5.5 years so we didn't end up where we are.

    Obama has been a disaster domestically and now he is branching out to the rest of the world with his disastrous incompetence.

    April 30, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  2. schuter1

    as long as we don't need our army to do any intervening. after all, we're spread a little thin right now, we're fighting two wars, we're going broke, and i don't see anyone wanting to pitch in and give us a hand. maybe we need to view things with a little more perspective. countries aren't always going to get along, and i don't see where the big bad u.s.a. needs to stick it's nose into every little argument. maybe we should let the u.n. do it's job – if it can't, maybe it's time to get out of that little fiasco, too.

    April 30, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  3. HM8432

    Our Infrastructure is falling apart, we need to invest money here in our own country, and maintain it.

    April 30, 2014 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  4. Bill, Bloomington Il

    We hate wars and will not get involved.

    Signed
    LBJ Harry S Truman FDR Woodrow Wilson

    April 30, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  5. it must be said

    Obama's strategy is to send people MREs, until they need body bags. Then I guess we will send those. We signed an agreement to help these people but Obama doesn't seem to care about fulfilling the obligations of this country. And then he'll wonder why everybody wants nukes.

    April 30, 2014 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  6. Brian

    "Staying Out" didn't really help in WWI and WWII.

    April 30, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  7. jack2

    People like to wait untill something comes back around and bites them. people waited and waited to do something about Htlr while in the mean time many many were killed

    April 30, 2014 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  8. 2_indy1600

    @Tommy G "Why damage our economy/"
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Good op/ed in forbes by Satell on sanctions against Russia. Set my mind totally at ease, for the time being. Obama is using the best option we have. When people in R can't use credit cards, or their sons and daughters can't because of affiliation, or people can't take vacations, Putin's folly will become apparent. How does this damage our economy?

    April 30, 2014 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  9. scranton

    We already have under Obama.........look at Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Iran...................

    April 30, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  10. salty dog

    Ah, total nonsense from the genius of saying and Tommy G, as clueless as they come, since when are we obligated to be global cop, and why no complaints about bush lying down for Putin. Judging on an even basis earns you credibility, needless to say, that's not likely to happen, you don't have the capacity for it,? your in the right party, that's for sure

    April 30, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  11. Erick Holmes

    What more do people want Obama to do! We wanted out of Iraq and want to stay out of others business; Obama's doing what we elected him to do, and yet people can't make up their mind.

    April 30, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  12. rom2894

    The sad, sad truth is the world is in need of policeman more than ever. I would love to say we should just stay out of "other" people's business....let someone else take care of it. But in reality no one else ever does.....freedom and peace for much of the rest of world is just so many words. Our countries problem is that we no longer "speak softly and carry a big stick", but instead try to talk to ruthless governments and leaders as if they cared or understood freedom.....when in reality they only understand power. The US has lost respect all over the world for appearing to be weak.

    April 30, 2014 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  13. OnTheRoad

    Until it has been proven that we can solve any our own problems (and everyone knows that we have a lot of problems that need to be solved) then why should anyone want our help (other than our tax payers money)!

    April 30, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  14. salty dog

    Truth is, if we did what you want, be involved in four or five conflicts simultaneously, add the tax cuts for the rich the gop wants, and wallah, another recession, pure genius I tell you. Some me you just can't reach, which is what we have here, couldn't have said it better struther.

    April 30, 2014 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  15. Bill

    Yes.

    Next.

    April 30, 2014 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  16. dave

    We probably should butt out, we don't have the type of tax structure to support such incursions into foreign lands, We can't continue to borrow money for such, and then have republicans come back and blame the poor children, and cut food programs to the children. We are not the #1 economy, the EU is, more responsibility should rest with the EU. Republican pollicies continue to erode our standing as an economic power and a military power. We should also review our dependence on oil, as well as review our trade deals with foreign Countries, all of them should be rescinded, and if needed, redone. We shouldn't be importing things that we can make ourselves, or things that we have a plentiful supply of. For those that want continued incursions, show me the money, or have a tax system that supports such ventures. We can't continue to have war after war, and continue to give huge tax breaks to the rich, as well as give them welfare for Wall Street. It's really a formula for huge debt, or bankruptcy.

    April 30, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  17. Robert Gemerek

    Clearly we can't be isolationist but we need to do a better job of choosing our battles instead of fighting every battle. The economic effects of a major reconstruction/ switch to green energy would be huge. It would create a ton of jobs, it would provide more healthy and efficient technology. Alot of unused old steel plants and/or factories could be converted to harness solar or wind energy. We definitly need to modernize a number of things including the way we filter waste water into drinking water, better, safer and more efficient plumbing and electrical systems. Its pretty much a no brainer and certainly a better alternative to spending our money on killing people and destroying things.

    April 30, 2014 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  18. 2_indy1600

    No, the earth's mantle is starting to look weak. We need to spend more money on war when shortages start in 2020?
    The entire focus of discourse in this country has to change. Meanwhile, if you live at an elevation below 300 feet, where are you planning to move, and how quickly?

    April 30, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  19. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    A qualified yes from this naturalized citizen.

    April 30, 2014 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  20. frank

    The administration continues to poke it's nose into other countries business when our economy is in trouble. The USA plate of addressable issues is slopping onto the floor and BO and his posse just will not focus on our list of domestic issues. They throw our tax dollars away to other countries when that money could be very well used here instead. It is all to help them line their pockets at the taxpayer expense. We have no advocate forcing an accounting of where our money goes. Instead we let administration foxes in the chicken coop to take inventory, then the taxpayers wonder why we come up short of chickens. Never thinking that the fox just might be taking liberty with the entrusted chicken counter position. Dumb!

    April 30, 2014 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  21. Pickers1368

    Being the world's only superpower the USA has a huge responsibility. If she's not up to the job, either China or Russia would be too eager to assume the role.

    April 30, 2014 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  22. salty dog

    rom, or were considered fascist for our intrusion into others business, you think if a hitler type assault happened we would be the only recourse, come on already, please, other countries know if they have no fossil fuels, they're on their own, you seriously don't think were viewed as a country trying to promote democracy?

    April 30, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  23. LUCAS

    We waste lives. There is no positive outcome. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan were no good for anyone. We went into Iraq and screwed them up, now we decided we're done, and all we accomplished was getting a lot of our young people killed for no positive outcome and we put Iraq into a civil war. But we've accomplished our Iraq mission??? What did we "accomplish"???

    April 30, 2014 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  24. derykhouston

    The biggest mistake American's make is believing that their government is simply acting as the worlds policeman.
    The truth is that Americans are being duped into thinking that their government intervenes in other countries affairs only because it sees an economic advantage. Such as a pipeline route, military bases so that they can control other nearby countries, oil supplies for themselves or their major trading partners etc etc.
    The American mothers and fathers get fooled into sending their sons and daughters to a war to secure "freedom" or some other such value. The young soldiers die or get terribly mangled for the greed and power of a few multi national companies.

    April 30, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  25. Gentle reason

    Military force should be a last resort. Yet, at the same time, we should be aware that our list of resorts in parts of the world are extremely limited, and the last one comes up a whole lot quicker. The only alternative is doing nothing.

    April 30, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
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