Anti-War Sentiments Swell In The US; Public Wants End Of All Conflicts In Middle East & Asia: Opinion Poll

Besides their dithering commitment to finance and support the war in Ukraine and Gaza,  Americans are reluctant even to fight any war that vitally affects their own security and national interests in the Middle East and Indo-Pacific, if the latest opinion polls are any indication.

Despite the US ships and military installations coming under attacks from the Houthi rebels in Yemen, anti-war sentiment is growing very fast in the United States.

Released on February 16, an opinion survey from the Harris Poll and the Quincy Institute said that roughly 70% of Americans wanted the Biden administration to push Ukraine toward a negotiated peace with Russia as soon as possible.

The poll involved an online survey of 2,090 American adults from February  8 to 12. The results were claimed to be weighted to ensure a representative sample of the US population. The margin of error is 2.5%, using a 95% confidence level.

The results suggest that US government policy toward the Ukraine war is increasingly out of step with public opinion on the eve of the second anniversary (February 24)  of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This latest poll showed a nine-point jump from a poll in late 2022 that surveyed likely voters. In that poll, 57% of respondents said they backed talks that would involve compromises.

The timing of the poll results is significant as these were released amid reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s suggestion of a ceasefire in Ukraine to freeze the war was rejected by the United States after contacts between intermediaries in late 2023 and early 2024, including a round of unofficial talks in Turkey.

However, US officials have denied any such contacts, saying there was no “official contact” between Moscow and Washington on the issue and that the US would only agree to negotiations involving Ukraine.

Incidentally, another poll by the New Economist/YouGov in late November also found that 68 percent of American respondents supported a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine. This poll revealed that 65 percent of American respondents supported a cease-fire between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

The country appeared highly polarised on whether they would support further aid to Israel or Ukraine. While additional aid to Israel garnered more support from Republicans, additional aid to Ukraine was more popular among Democrats.

Details of opinion polls indicate that younger Americans and older Americans look significantly different when it comes to US military engagement abroad and the role the US should play in the world.

Americans overall want to focus on issues at home and are wary of entrenchment in conflicts abroad. In a different opinion poll released last November, an overwhelming majority of registered voters (84 percent) were either very concerned (43 percent) or somewhat concerned (41 percent) that the United States would be drawn into a military conflict in the Middle East.

Interestingly, Americans do realize simultaneously that whether it is Ukraine, the Middle East, or the Indo-Pacific (here, China’s military threats to Taiwan and North Korea’s missile threats to the US), the trouble spots have grave geopolitical implications for the US.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted between January 22 and 28 showed that 74% of Americans view the war in Ukraine as important to US national interests – with 43% describing it as “very”  important. Similar shares saw the war between Israel and Hamas (75%) and tensions between China and Taiwan (75%) as important to US national interests.

However, when the question comes as to whether they are prepared to fight themselves to ensure their vital interests, Americans are in no mood for sending troops overseas. So much so that these days, the US is not finding enough young people to join its military services.

It was found that in 2023, the Army and Air Force fell short of their respective goals by around 10,000 recruits, while the Navy was under 6,000. In fact, since 1987, the number of active-duty personnel in the US has fallen by 39 percent. And such shortfalls are increasingly becoming worrisome for the American leadership in an increasingly volatile global picture.

How does one explain the public opinion in the United States? One may see the answer as William Walldorf, Professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest and a visiting fellow at Defense Priorities (he is currently writing a book, “America’s Forever Wars: Why So Long, Why End Now, What Comes Next, focused on Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan”) explains in terms of recent American experience.

The US has fought some wars in the last few years, which increasingly became “unpopular” at home. And in most of them, which began with popular endorsement, the US lost. Examples include Vietnam,  Iraq, and Afghanistan.

American elite and public opinion supported the beginning of these wars with great enthusiasm, but as the conflicts failed to produce a definitive outcome, they eventually turned against the wars or just lost interest. “Americans like starting wars but are not so focused on finishing them,” Waldorf argues.

Secondly,  present political leaders in the US, unlike their predecessors, seem to have failed in constructing acceptable “narratives” for garnering public support. Past leaders convinced the American public by explaining how the American involvement in Korea or Vietnam or elsewhere during the Cold War was necessary because of “the existential danger from  Soviet expansion”  and “stopping communism.” Similarly, interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, or for that matter Libya, were necessitated to defeat “ terrorism.”

USS Carl Vinson
An F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to the “Bounty Hunters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2, is signaled to launch from the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) during Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX) 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Larissa T. Dougherty)

In a recent book titled “To Shape Our World For Good,” author  C. William Walldorf, Jr. has argued that the politics surrounding two broad, public narratives—the liberal narrative and the restraint narrative— have played a vital role in shaping US decisions whether to militarily intervene or not in the troubled spots of the world. He argues persuasively that US foreign policy is driven not just by the balance of power or geography but by master narratives.

Apparently, such narratives are absent today. The anti-terrorism narrative has disappeared with the decline of al-Qaeda and Islamic State. The War in Ukraine does not pose existential dangers to the US. Notwithstanding all its bravado in talks, North Korea is too light a global player.

Besides, as A. Wess Mitchell, a principal at The Marathon Initiative and a former assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, has pointed out in a perceptive essay, the US now has a related disadvantage in the factor of money.

“In past conflicts, Washington could easily outspend adversaries. During World War II, the US national debt-to-GDP ratio almost doubled, from 61 percent of GDP to 113 percent. By contrast, the United States would enter a conflict today with debt already in excess of 100 percent of GDP. Assuming a rate of expansion similar to that of World War II, it’s not unreasonable to expect that the debt could swell to 200 percent of GDP or higher. As the Congressional Budget Office and other sources have noted, debt loads on that scale would risk catastrophic consequences for the US economy and financial system”, he writes.

China, of course, is viewed in the US as a formidable adversary, but it has not crossed the limits, such as attacking Taiwan to create a crisis that has real global ramifications, including for the US. If there is a bipartisan consensus on how to deal with China at present, then it is on to develop effective deterrence by helping and ensuring that allies and partners such as Australia, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and India become militarily strong to defend themselves. And on its part, the US itself has to further strengthen its defense-industrial base, it is argued.

Viewed thus, the US is entering a time of hard decisions indeed. In the prevailing “no war” sentiments, the government has to come up with a suitable narrative for why the US will remain prepared to fight a war, of course, with its allies and partners.

  • Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has commented on politics, foreign policy, and strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. 
  • CONTACT: prakash.nanda (at)
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Prakash Nanda
Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda has been commenting on Indian politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He has been a Visiting Professor at Yonsei University (Seoul) and FMSH (Paris). He has also been the Chairman of the Governing Body of leading colleges of the Delhi University. Educated at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he has undergone professional courses at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Boston) and Seoul National University (Seoul). Apart from writing many monographs and chapters for various books, he has authored books: Prime Minister Modi: Challenges Ahead; Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy; Rising India: Friends and Foes; Nuclearization of Divided Nations: Pakistan, Koreas and India; Vajpayee’s Foreign Policy: Daring the Irreversible. He has written over 3000 articles and columns in India’s national media and several international dailies and magazines. CONTACT: