America ready to get back in the superpower business

In late August, after a summer dominated by horrible headlines chronicling the Islamic State’s brutal conduct of its campaign of territorial expansion, Pew Research Center/USA Today released a poll which indicated that America’s post-Iraq War hangover was gone.

Over the course of one year, the public’s opposition to airstrikes inside Syria disappeared. That Pew/USA Today survey showed that 54 percent now backed a military campaign aimed at rolling back ISIS in Iraq and taking the fight to their Syrian stronghold. Another 54 percent of the public said that President Barack Obama’s caution, once a boon to his political fortunes, had become a liability. A majority now believed that the president was exhibiting too much restraint in the face of what the public perceived to be a direct threat to American national security.

The survey also confirmed that the public no longer thinks the United States is doing too much overseas. The percentage of those who believe America is taking on too many responsibilities abroad collapsed over the course of 2013-2014 from 51 percent to 39 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of respondents who said the U.S. is doing too little to address global problems had nearly doubled, from 17 to 31 percent, from just November.

Those results have been confirmed today by a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. That survey found that the number of registered voters who believe America should have a more activist foreign policy surged 8 points from April while the number of Americans who believe the United States is over engaged abroad fell by a commensurate amount.

“The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found 27% of registered voters would like to see the U.S. play a more active role in world affairs, up from 19% back in April,” a report in WSJ read. “A plurality of 40% still believes the U.S. should be less active on the world stage, but that is down from 47% in April.”


Both Pew and WSJ/NBC found that much of that movement is due to Republicans. A brief moment in which the country’s conservative party embraced a more introspective approach to foreign affairs – a moment which accompanied the rise of noninterventionist Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) – appears to be over.

“In April, 45% of self-identified Republicans wanted the U.S. to be less active in the world, while 29% said the country should be more active. In the September survey, Republicans wanted the U.S. to play a greater role in world events by a margin of 41%-34%,” WSJ revealed.

Self-identified independent voters surveyed in that poll also agree that a more robust approach to foreign policy is needed. Democratic views on foreign affairs, meanwhile, remain largely unchanged.

Rarely do Americans agree as uniformly on any issue as they do on ISIS. Two polls released this week indicate that approximately nine out of every 10 Americans see the Islamic State as a threat to United States national security. Americans are nervous and unsatisfied with Obama’s unfazed approach to the current crisis.

It is with this backdrop that the president delivers a prime time address to the nation on Wednesday night. He is expected to outline a strategy to combat the ISIS threat that many expect to consist of a long commitment to dismantling that group, the military dimension of which will rely on Western airpower and regional players to serve as the “boots on the ground.”

The expectations are high, and Obama will have to forego his dovish instincts in order to meet them. The president was elected, he and his advisors believe, to return the nation to peacetime. He was elevated to the White House, they say, to end wars. On Wednesday, the public will be watching closely to see if Obama can skillfully get America into one.

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