Poll: Americans favor limited military response to ISIS

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 E. J. Dionne, senior fellow at Brookings, left, and Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland Photo by Suzanne Pollak
E. J. Dionne, senior fellow at Brookings, left, and Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland
Photo by Suzanne Pollak

A new poll released by The Brookings Institution shows that the majority of Americans favor limited military action against ISIS – an Islamic extremist group that has captured large swarths of territory in Iraq and Syria – but a sizable minority of those questioned favor sending in U.S. ground troops.

The poll finds that most people consider ISIS an extension of al-Qaida that probably can’t be beaten by the United States and its allies, and, even if it could be defeated, it wouldn’t matter because another terrorist group would arise to take its place, said Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland and a nonresident fellow at Brookings. He was the principal investigator on this poll of American attitudes towards ISIS and Syria.


The poll was conducted from Nov. 15-19 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
In presenting his findings last week, Telhami noted that the public did not want to intervene in Syria after learning that Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons on his citizens. But when ISIS began beheading people and sharing videos of these gruesome murders, public opinion turned, and Americans were willing to get involved.

Americans by a huge margin believe ISIS is the biggest threat in the Middle East. Seventy percent chose ISIS first, followed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which received only 13 percent. Iran came in third. Fear of ISIS was ranked first by Democrats (70 percent), Republicans (72 percent) and Independents (67 percent).

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If airstrikes against ISIS prove insufficient, 41 percent of those taking the poll support sending in ground troops. A majority of Republicans (53 percent) favor placing boots on the ground.

The poll results indicate that President Barack Obama stands with the American people. Like the American public, Obama gives “a wink and a nod” to international problems, getting involved just a little, said Tamara Wittes, senior fellow and director of Brookings’ Saban Center for Middle East Policy. “Americans want Obama to make it go away” without much involvement on their part, she said.


“I actually think the ambivalence that Obama feels” is the same ambivalence the American public feels, agreed E. J. Dionne, senior fellow at Brookings, during a panel discussion on the poll. While growing smaller, Americans still have “an Iraq hangover,” he said.

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@SuzannePollak

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