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Americans Increasingly Wary of Foreign Intervention

Carla Sloan (L) and Liz Ziehl, friends and neighbors of diplomat Anne Smedinghoff, who was killed in Afghanistan, tie a ribbon on a tree in River Forest, Illinois, April 8, 2013.
Carla Sloan (L) and Liz Ziehl, friends and neighbors of diplomat Anne Smedinghoff, who was killed in Afghanistan, tie a ribbon on a tree in River Forest, Illinois, April 8, 2013.
After more than a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, opinion polls suggest the American public is increasingly reluctant to support military intervention overseas. That reluctance is inhibiting activists who would like to see the United States take a more robust role in conflicts like the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Americans Increasingly Wary of Foreign Intervention
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Dan Layman is with the Syrian Support Group, which raises funds and sends non-lethal aid to moderate factions of the Free Syrian Army. The group was founded by Syrian-Americans opposed to the Assad regime in Syria and is trying to generate support among the American public.

But Layman said getting Americans interested in the conflict has been a challenge.

"In terms of getting involved in a conflict, the American public feels a little bit burned from the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the resources and lives that were spent in Iraq and so it is a little bit hard to get that large scale galvanization of support,” he said.

A new form of isolationism?

That reluctance of Americans to get involved in overseas conflicts was evident in a series of random interviews VOA conducted with tourists visiting Washington from around the U.S.

"We have to be very cautious about that and very careful about how we go about getting into other countries affairs,” Stephen Fields from Tennesee said.

Merrel Gelburo from Virginia said, “They are tired of war. I think Americans never did like going to war although we have been involved in a lot recently. Hopefully President Obama will keep us out of any future wars.”

"I definitely think we should pull back quite a bit, actually, from what we have done in the past ten years, especially for the state of the economy right now,” Jason Kapit from Massachussetts agreed.

Most analysts will not go so far as to call this sentiment a new form of isolationism. But this hesitation to get involved overseas has been showing up in public opinion polls.

“There is a weariness after two major wars and an apprehension both about what is going on the Middle East generally and what is going on in China," remarked Carroll Doherty with the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in Washington. "They are not turning away, but there is certainly no desire on the public’s part to get involved in hot spots around the world.”

Dan Layman said he understands the public’s wariness of foreign military involvements. But he said it is frustrating trying to rally Americans to what he believes is a worthwhile cause.

“I think it is reasonable to say that maybe the American people feel like we need to go into a little more of an international foreign policy seclusion," he said. "This is pretty regrettable given the conflicts that are going on in the world right now that really do need our support.”

Layman added that he remains committed no matter what the public opinion polls say.

“Even given the unfortunate and sometimes kind of dim policy initiatives that we see, we are for this cause until the end and we are going to see it through,” he said.

A recent Washington Post / ABC News poll found only 17 percent of those asked believe the United States should get involved in the Syrian conflict, while 73 percent opposed the idea.
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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.