The Duck of Minerva

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The new Global Views survey is here! The new Global Views survey is here!

September 16, 2010

I admit it, I usually look forward to the release of US and international public opinion data. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs just released this year’s Global Views survey aptly titled Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities. Only a quick look so far, but a couple of things jump out on first glance:

First, these views strike me as far more rational (in the Page and Shapiro sense) than the general tenor of elite and media discourse. In the past decade, the US has spent roughly half of the world’s expenditures on defense (i.e., slightly more than every other country in the world combined). Despite that, most Americans appear to believe that US influence and power in the world has dropped precipitously in the same time period. Apparently, not enough bang for the buck. As a result, the public wants to be more “selective” in engaging the world. No surprise here.

But, consistent with data over the past twenty years, this isn’t a call for isolationism. The attitudes continue to show support for the US to “do its share” to solve the worlds’ problems and include a lot of support for maintaining American military bases abroad coupled with a desire to see more multilateral burden-sharing. Seems to be a call for smarter international engagement with more diplomacy and less reliance on US military as the cornerstone of US policy.

Second, the public has far less faith in the utility of military power than it did in the months after 9/11. Again, given the fiascos in Iraq and and Afghanistan, no real surprise here. But contrary to the increasing chorus of “bomb Iran” or “let Israel bomb Iran” voices, these attitudes also carry over to assessments of US obligations to Israel in its feud with Iran. According to the Executive Summary:

“A majority of Americans (56%) think that if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Iran were to retaliate against Israel, and the two were to go to war, the United States should not bring its military forces into the war on the side of Israel and against Iran.

Fewer than half of Americans show a readiness to defend Israel against an attack by its neighbors.”

The report does not reveal the saliency of these particular attitudes and the views could well change if we move from hypothetical survey questions to real world events. But, it is clear the American public is wary of yet another escalating conflict and war. And, while there is a long history of robust US public support for Israel, these views do strike me as carrying very real and additional risks for the Israelis.

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.