In an interesting reflection of American society, a recent survey found a massive majority of likely voters backing intervention in support of Taiwan – but without boots on the ground.
They agree that the US should militarily intervene, but with only jets and warships and not with soldiers, which entails higher casualties.
The findings in the survey by Rasmussen Reports put the figure at 79% who would support the United States imposing economic sanctions on China for invading Taiwan, including 60% who would ‘Strongly Support’ sanctions. Only 12% would oppose sanctions if China invaded Taiwan.
The poll, conducted by telephone, had a small sample size of 900. It is nevertheless reflective of the US society’s aversion towards war.
A similar sentiment had gripped the country during both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, where a significant proportion of the population opposed what was later called “endless wars” by peace activists and its military veterans alike.
As of July 2021, 4,431 US soldiers were killed in the Iraq War, while 2,402 US military personnel lost their lives in Afghanistan.
Weariness over the long-running wars with no set political objectives and tens of billions of dollars was leveraged by then-US President Donald Trump as a political plank, who promised to end them. Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020 and abrupt withdrawal from Syria in 2019 were a part of this policy.
China is Challenge, Not A Threat
The polls indicate both convergence and split in the US political landscape over China and Russia, where Republican, particularly the Donald Trump faction, oppose US support for Ukraine and back reconciliation with Russia.
However, both parties are united in their hardline on China, which observers say represents a more significant strategic challenge to the US.
The country threatens to displace US primacy in global politics, which drives its hawkishness. US leaders otherwise know China does not represent an existential threat.
President Joe Biden himself promised in March 2021 “(to not allow China to become) the wealthiest, most powerful country” on his “watch.” Even formal documents like the National Defense Strategy and the National Security Strategy describe China as a “challenge” and not a threat.
Developed World Can’t Lose People, Developing World Can
But while both parties’ positions align on China, their voters would still immediately withdraw support to an intervention in a kind of war that causes rapid and mass military casualties.
China is a peer competitor with an advanced military where any country would have to commit massive human and material resources to fight.
And this is where the peculiar difference between societies in advanced developed countries and developing nations towards war comes in. The First World usually has limited human resources and immense financial capital, where increasing casualties drive their populations increasingly against the conflict.
The US has never fought a war on its homeland, participating in conflicts away from its shores.
Although interest groups that back the US participation will push for US intervention in a war, the fact that average everyday Americans are not physically threatened by the target country does manifest somewhere.
The war then appears increasingly irrelevant as the number of soldiers killed rises. This was the case with Vietnam, which marked the largest anti-war movement in US history. In other words, international issues are not domestic issues in US electoral politics – until American soldiers are killed.
Wargames by the RAND Corporation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which predict unimaginable US military casualties in a clash with China over Taiwan, forbode the kind of national uprising that might occur if Washington enters the conflict.
Developing nations, on the other hand, have historically been physically threatened by the developed world in terms of colonization or strategic containment. Iran, Russia, North Korea, China, Cuba, and Venezuela are good examples.
These countries and their citizens believe they live under a constant threat of invasion with US bases outside their homeland or economic hardships owing to US sanctions.
With domestic life being affected by their relations with the US, a large proportion of their populations are governed by a nationalist drive willing to ‘defend’ their country. Consequently, the more body bags arrive, the harder their societies are resolved to fight and push their governments for retribution.
US Citizens Would Support War When America Is Threatened
Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars, which made American voters weary, led to the US withdrawal from there, with no strategic or political victory. But ironically, the US downfall was brought about by Iraqis, Vietnamese, and Afghans who led determined insurgencies, despite suffering devastating human losses.
US boots on the ground in a war with China would mean American soldiers fighting alongside the Taiwanese on the island’s coast or the streets of Taipei.
In an extreme yet unlikely situation, it can also translate into the US launching a land invasion of continental China.
But given China being mentioned by Republicans and Democrats in their international policy and no mention of it in any domestic plank, it means even naval and air participation in the war will cause a few hundred to a few thousand US military deaths – enough to trigger anti-war protests.