Americans’ views increasingly hawkish on terrorism, ISIS

Last week, I posted a piece laying out the emerging evidence that the American people are shifting toward a more hawkish view of how we should respond to foreign threats, especially terrorism.  A Quinnipiac University poll released today underscores that shift.

As economic worries gradually subside, concern about terrorism is on the rise.  The survey finds that terrorism now trails only the economy on the list of top public priorities.  67 percent of the people regard ISIS as a “major threat” to the security of the United States.

The public is not satisfied with the Obama administration’s response to this threat.  Only 39 percent approve of the president’s handling of terrorism, down from 52 percent a year ago, while 54 percent disapprove.  And when it comes to ISIS, the public’s view is even more negative: only 35 percent approve of the president’s approach; 55 percent disapprove.

These sentiments translate into broad support for much more assertive policies.  The Quinnipiac survey found that by a stunning margin of 62 to 30 percent, the American people now support sending U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  That figure includes majorities of Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans, women as well as men, and young adults as well as seniors.  And 68 percent are “very confident” or “somewhat confident” that the United States and its allies can defeat ISIS.

Although the American people are aware of the risks, they have reached a judgment about where the greater risk lies.  53 percent are concerned that the U.S. response “will not go far enough” in stopping ISIS, versus only 39 percent who fear that we will go too far. 

The public is less united on this point than on sending ground troops, however.  Women are more concerned than men about the possibility of overreaching; Americans under age 35 are more concerned than those over 35; and by a margin of 58 to 32 percent, Democrats are afraid of going too far.

Still, neither the congress nor the president can afford to ignore the rising public demand for a tougher response to ISIS.  Despite divisions among elected officials about the precise terms of a new authorization to use military force, members of congress would be well advised to hold hearings as soon as possible and resolve their disagreements expeditiously.  As for the president, Mr. Obama could be one beheading or immolation away from having his hand forced by a public that has grown increasingly impatient with halfway measures.

Those of us who lived through the 1973-1979 epoch, bookended by our evacuation from Vietnam and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, have seen this movie before, and it ended badly for doves.   It’s not 2009 anymore.  Welcome to the post-post-Iraq era.