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AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION AND MILITARY VENTURES ABROAD: ATTENTION, EVALUATION, INVOLVEMENT, POLITICS, AND THE WARS OF THE BUSHES

By John Mueller

Abstract

In general, the American public pays very little attention to international affairs, a condition that does not seem to have been changed by the events of September 11, 2001. It seems to apply a fairly reasonable, commonsensical standard of benefit and cost when evaluating foreign affairs, and is about as accepting of involvement in foreign affairs as ever, but it does not have--and never has had--much stomach for losing American lives in ventures and arenas that are of little concern to it and does not value foreign lives highly. Although the President does not necessarily need public support in advance to pull off a military venture, there is little or no long term political gain from successful ones. When the value of the stakes does not seem to be worth additional American lives, the public has shown a willingness to abandon an overextended or untenable position with little concern about saving face. However, if they are not being killed, American troops can remain in peace-keeping or nation-building ventures virtually indefinitely--for the most part, nobody will even remember that they are there. In general, it seems that there is a substantial potential for the occupation of Iraq to become a deep political problem for Bush. Under favorable scenarios, public attention will switch to domestic issues, particularly to the troubled economy. Under quagmire ones, people are increasingly likely to see the war as a mistake, and starting and continuing wars that people come to consider mistaken does not enhance a president's re-electability. If Iraq does become a quagmire, the Bush administration could probably withdraw at a bearable electoral cost. The messy aftermath of the war against Iraq suggests that all or most of that self-infatuated talk abou

Year: 2003
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