American Public Skeptical About The Way Forward In Iraq

Iraq Map

A new CNN/ORC poll shows the American public almost evenly divided on how the United States should respond to the ongoing crisis in Iraq:

Half of the American public doesn’t think that the U.S. has a responsibility to act in the deteriorating situation in Iraq, a new poll says.

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll released Monday, a plurality of Americans also believe that President Barack Obama has responded appropriately to the violence in Iraq. Forty-one percent of Americans said the president’s response to the crisis has been about right, compared with 29 percent who said he should do more and 22 percent who said he should do less.

Forty-two percent said that the U.S. has an obligation to do something about the situation in Iraq, where militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have claimed significant territory in the northern and central part of the country. Fifty percent of Americans, by contrast, said the U.S. doesn’t have an obligation to act.

The percentage of those who said the U.S. has an obligation to act is still higher than in recent previous international incidents in Syria and Ukraine.

These numbers are actually higher in support of the possibility that the U.S. does need to act than I had thought we would see given both previous polling on crises in Ukraine and Syria and the general public antipathy toward the Iraq War itself. The party breakdown it quite interesting. Among self-identified Republicans, a full 42% believe that Iraq is no longer America’s responsibility, for example, while a full 60% of them see increased terrorism as being a likely outcome of current events in Iraq.

Andrew Sullivan makes these observations about the poll, and what it means for the Republicans specifically:

What you see should dampen hopes that Republicans have shifted from a Cheneyesque posture to a Paulite one. But they’re divided. And with any luck, the latest Sunni insurgency could help advance a debate in their ranks that they’ve been loath to have for many years. And that’s no small thing. The GOP’s major policy initiative in the past decade was the Iraq War. It was the signal concern of the Bush-Cheney administration and they asked the country to judge them on it. The country did – which is why Barack Obama is president. But the party then went into a strange cone of silence on the question. The neocons kept peddling the idea that the surge “worked” – which, according to its architects, meant a reconciled multi-sectarian government able to govern democratically. No one really pushed back on that transparently false narrative. And then it was on to criticizing Obama! Only now that the issue has come back into the American consciousness – and in the context of a primary process in the near-future – does the GOP have a chance to figure this all out.

My own view is that the continuing conflagration can only help Paul – because it is highly unlikely to result in anything but more grief, more violence and more terror, but with Americans more deeply involved. That’s likely, in my view, to tilt the debate away from interventionism.

I think Sullivan is largely correct, but as I’ve observed elsewhere, the foreign policy debate inside the GOP that has been reinvigorated by events in Iraq is likely to play a large role in the race for the party’s 2016 nomination. Given the party’s history, I’d still place my bets on the forces favoring intervention, because that’s the faction of the GOP that has essentially controlled the debate inside the party since the end of World War II.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2014, Campaign 2016, Iraq War, National Security, Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Pearce says:

    “My own view is that the continuing conflagration can only help Paul”

    I dare say if you’re looking at “the continuing conflagration” and you ask yourself “Cui bono?” and your answer is Rand Paul…

    You’re not looking at it right.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Worry not Americans, and follow our fearless Dick…once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…

  3. J-Dub says:

    So the outcome we want is democracy, with Sunni, Shia, and Kurds sharing power. Does anyone think this is even remotely possible? If not, then what is the next best option and how do we get there? Partitioning the country? I don’t think we have the authority to do that any more, if we ever did. If they can’t share power then whose side are we on?

  4. wr says:

    Gosh, does this mean that Andrew Sullivan doesn’t plan to call me a traitor if I don’t support this iteration of the Iraq War? That’s mighty generous of him.

  5. al-Ameda says:

    This seems like another great opportunity to find those WMDs that everyone was talking about in 2003.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    As I’ve been saying for some time I think a clear, unambiguous statement about what the U. S. interests and objectives are in Iraq is something that should be articulated before we begin a debate about tactics.

  7. walt moffett says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Suspect its going to be something along the lines ” … Earnest of intent… bafflegrab …discredited neo-conservativism…pivot shift baffle … new wave of economic sanctions …” then in a bit, “Dude that was so last week… Congress must pass immigration reform … Increase the minimum wage .. new wave of economic sanctions …. we assure the new government of our full support … baffle baffle shift pivot baffle”. Along with guest appearances by various uniformed sphinxes.

  8. Robin Cohen says:

    In view of the previous failure to shore up the pitiful, failed State of Iraq, why on Earth would we be dumb enough to try again? Dumb George set off the current wasp’s nest, aided and abetted by his merry band of liars while risking nothing himself. Haven’t we already tried to do the impossible and failed because of the sheer stupidity of the Iraqi people and it’s so-called Government? Not one more American life nor one American dollar should be wasted on Iraq or Afghanistan for that matter. Let the Middle East with it’s great wealth put out it’s own fires for once.

  9. al-Ameda says:

    I believe that Obama is definitely influenced by the predictable conservative criticism that Obama is weak on foreign policy and in “standing up for American interests.” The ‘send in advisors’ gambit is about as close to ‘thanks but we’ll sit this one out’ as we’re going to get from Obama.

  10. Grewgills says:

    I hope you’re right. I have a sinking feeling that he is being drawn in to a McCain level cartoon response. Maliki will not do what needs to be done to make the government work for all, assuming that is even possible.

  11. al-Ameda says:


    I hope you’re right. I have a sinking feeling that he is being drawn in to a McCain level cartoon response. Maliki will not do what needs to be done to make the government work for all, assuming that is even possible.

    Why people continue to listen to McCain when it comes to foreign policy and interventions is a great mystery to me. McCain counsels intervention and belligerency in virtually every prominent situation of unrest and instability in the world. When – in the past 10 years or so – has McCain been right? Iraq? Egypt? Libya, Syria? Iran?

    Now admittedly, most Americans get it wrong when it comes to taking action in that part of the world, but McCain actually gets listened to, and he consistently gets calls to appear on those softball Sunday morning talkies.

  12. the Q says:

    Can anyone say “fall of Saigon”?

    Can this end any other way? Have we not created the same quaqmire scenario in Iraq as we did in Vietnam two generations ago?

    The sight of ARVN, er Iraq security forces joining the enemy with U.S. supplied weaponery, is an all too familar sight to those of us who witnessed the same in 1975.

    The evacuation of the Maliki officials off the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is more than a 50/50 proposition.

    The neocons who bleat on endlessly about Obama “ruining” their Iraq efforts is like the dead chain smoking cancer patient’s family railing at the oncologist who failed to save the patient from his own addiction.

  13. Matt Bernius says:

    @the Q:

    The evacuation of the Maliki officials off the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is more than a 50/50 proposition.

    Frankly, it’s no where near this high. The only way that Maliki falls is if he and his cronies lose their Shi’a support. And that’s doubtful for pretty obvious reasons.

    The likelihood of Bagdad falling is low — in part thanks to the Ethnic cleansing that took place in the city following the fall of Saddam. Bagdad is nearly exclusively Shi’a. The areas of Iraq that have fallen and continue to be held were predominantly Sunni (and ISIS is, among other things, a Sunni organization).

    Given that there are twice as many Shi’a in Iraq than Sunni’s its difficult to see how ISIS would ever successfully take over the country without outside military intervention — especially given the fact that populations from both sects have geographically consolidated (again, see the ethnic cleansing).

  14. the Q says:

    Matt, lets hope you are right, but if that is so, why then the need for airstrikes tp defend Baghdad? Why, if the threat is minimal, would we even consider it and really conflate this problem?

    Me thinks we again stepped into a pile of steaming dog crap and we are hoping we don’t get stained.