By James Carden
Last week, the Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy—a bipartisan advocacy group calling for congressional oversight of America’s lengthy list of military interventions abroad—released the results of a survey that show broad public support for Congress to reclaim its constitutional prerogatives in the exercise of foreign policy (see Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution) and for fewer U.S. military interventions generally. Undertaken last November by J. Wallin Opinion Research, the new survey revealed “a national voter population that is largely skeptical of the practicality or benefits of military intervention overseas, including both the physical involvement of the U.S. military and also extending to military aid in the form of funds or equipment as well.”
Bill Dolbow, the spokesman for the Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy, said, “We started this initiative to give a voice to the people and the people have spoken—Congress needs to enact more oversight before intervening in conflict abroad.”
The headline findings show, among other things, that 86.4 percent of those surveyed feel the American military should be used only as a last resort, while 57 percent feel that U.S. military aid to foreign countries is counterproductive. The latter sentiment “increases significantly” when involving countries like Saudi Arabia, with 63.9 percent saying military aid—including money and weapons—should not be provided to such countries.
The poll shows strong, indeed overwhelming, support, for Congress to reassert itself in the oversight of U.S. military interventions, with 70.8 percent of those polled saying Congress should pass legislation that would restrain military action overseas in three specific ways:
- by requiring “clearly defined goals to authorize military engagement” (78.8 percent);
- by requiring Congress “to have both oversight and accountability regarding where troops are stationed” (77 percent);
- by requiring that “any donation of funds or equipment to a foreign country be matched by a pledge of that country to adhere to the rules of the Geneva Convention” (84.8 percent).
The results of the J. Wallin Opinion Research survey would seem to track with the results of another study undertaken last year by Francis Shen, a law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, and Dougas Kriner, a political science professor at Boston University, who found that Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential race might well have been owing to her hawkish foreign-policy positions.
The study, “Battlefield Casualties and Ballot Box Defeat: Did the Bush-Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House?,” which was released last summer, found that “a divide is emerging between communities whose young people are dying to defend the country, and those communities whose young people are not.” That divide, which the authors termed “the casualty gap,” may have contributed to Donald Trump’s surprise victory. Indeed, “even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations,” the authors found there was “a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.”
And while Trump has largely betrayed his campaign promise to put “America first”—particularly with regard to the Middle East policy being pursued by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner—he does so at the risk of alienating his base.
Nevertheless, the new survey indicates that the desire for a sensible American policy abroad goes well beyond Trump’s base, and that there is a wide bipartisan majority that seeks an American foreign policy of realism and restraint.
The researchers at J. Wallin note that, even in spite of what they call a “climate of distinct political polarization,” the results show these sentiments vary “only in degrees of intensity across political party, ideology, age groups, gender, and geographic regions.”
The survey found that 78 percent of Democrats, 64.5 percent of Republicans, and 68.8 percent of independents supported restraining military action overseas. “Rarely,” noted the report, “does opinion research reveal issues that enjoy shared sentiments on a bi-partisan level.”
The poll brings home just how divorced the Beltway—and its think tanks, media outlets, and political class—is from the expressed desire of a large majority of Americans for a responsible and reasonable foreign policy, a policy that, arguably, has been absent since the end of the Cold War.
Candidates from both parties running in this year’s midterm election ignore the results of the new survey at their peril.Φ
James W. Carden served as an adviser on Russia policy at the US State Department. A contributing writer at The Nation, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Quartz, The American Conservative and The National Interest. He is executive editor for the American Committee for East-West Accord. This article appeared on January 9 at The Nation online magazine.