Americans Want ISIS Destroyed, But Do They Want Another War?
Policy + Politics

Americans Want ISIS Destroyed, But Do They Want Another War?

The president’s decision to lead a NATO-backed military campaign against ISIS coincides with a major shift in public sentiment in favor of a far more hawkish approach to the terrorist threats. Almost two-thirds of Americans surveyed for a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll believe it is in the nation’s interest to confront ISIS, while just 13 percent disagreed with such action.

Though plainly enraged by the beheading of two American journalists by an ISIS fighter last month, the depths of the American public’s tolerance for additional war is unclear. On the one hand, recent polling has shown Americans to be significantly more hawkish when asked about ISIS in particular.

Related: Why Taking on ISIS Could Be a Huge Fiscal Fiasco

However, in a Gallup survey released yesterday, when Americans were asked to rank the top problems facing the U.S., terrorism barely cracked the top ten, with only 4 percent of respondents identifying it as the biggest issue facing the country. The “situation in Iraq” fared worse, with only 3 percent identifying it as a top concern. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that a plurality of Americans (40 percent) would prefer to see the country play less of a role in world affairs, though the number was down from 47 percent in April.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday said that while he supports Obama’s move against ISIS and hopes it will succeed, he believes the president has underestimated the difficulty of the task.

“I sense that he may have allowed politics to limit our chances for success,” McKeon said, partly because of the nation’s doubts about committing troops to another foreign conflict. ‘”Now, most of us cringe at the term ‘boots on the ground,’ he said. “But we need to talk about what “boots on the ground” actually means. Some have taken it to mean large occupying forces in a hostile land. That’s a red herring. In fact the best way to ensure that we never have to drop an entire maneuver corps into Iraq is to be smart about using the right boots on the ground today.” 

Related: GOP Dilemma – Support Obama on ISIS or Blame Him for Mideast Mistakes 

“The president wants to use a light footprint now in hopes that he doesn’t need a heavy footprint later,” McKeon said. He acknowledged that Obama has already sent in Special Forces operators, but he insisted that more manpower will be required. “I want our coalition to go all-in now, so that we do not risk having to use enormously more blood and treasure later,” he said.

“In a discussion after his speech, McKeon was asked about the impact recent cuts to Defense spending have had on the military and whether the effort against ISIS would add to the strain on the troops. McKeon said that readiness has already been seriously damaged by sequester cuts, and that the addition of two new missions within the space of a week – bombing ISIS and assisting with the Ebola crisis in West Africa – will result in a military stretched dangerously thin.

At some point, McKeon said, the administration will either have to stop adding missions or stop withdrawing resources from the Pentagon.

A GOP Congressional aide said that momentum to undo the sequester seems to be building in the House.

“For the last six months separate and aside from the mechanism of sequester…there has been an increasing bipartisan acknowledgement that DOD was too much of the bill payer,” the aide said. “We have unintentionally done damage to the health of the force. There is a growing consensus among members that they need to find a way to reverse that.”

Related: 9 Ways the White House Plans to Defeat ISIS

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who spoke at AEI yesterday, voiced similar concerns about the state of the military, decrying the recent “massive reductions” in Defense spending.

“In this very time of hasty withdrawals, continuous disengagement, and such self- congratulation for all of it, we have also seen dramatic and devastating drawdowns in the military power of the United States,” he said.

Calling for “a new commitment to restoring our nation’s military preparedness,” Cheney said, “[T]he defense budget is different from every other part of our federal budget. In most other areas, you start with questions like, what do we have and what can we afford? When you are looking at the defense budget of the United States, you start with the question: what do we need?

“But that kind of careful thought is not what is driving the massive defense reductions now underway. And whatever the thinking behind these decisions, it bears little relation to a strategic environment that is complex, demanding, and becoming more dangerous by the day.”

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