Does Reluctance To Engage In Ukraine Mean Americans No Longer Want To Lead?

Good news was welcomed on May 3 with the release of Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors who were abducted last month. Unfortunately, most of the news coming from Ukraine in recent days has been less positive.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops massed near Ukraine’s eastern frontier, which set off violence in the region resulting in almost 50 being killed in clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces.

Analysts have expressed concerns that Russia has stoked violence in the region in an attempt to elicit calls for help from ethnic minorities in the area. Even President Obama raised the issue of Russia’s involvement in the unrest during a press conference outlining additional sanctions on Russia.

“The Russian leadership must know that if it continues to destabilize  eastern Ukraine and disrupt this month’s presidential election, we will move quickly on additional steps, including further sanctions that will impose greater costs,” Obama said.

Whether Russia was responsible for the unrest or not, calls for outside help are growing, reports The Washington Post. The question, however, is if Russia does move further into Ukraine, what will the West do? If politicians are guided by public opinion, they will do very little beyond sanctions.

Writing on CNN’s foreign policy blog, Bruce Stokes correctly asserts that Americans overwhelmingly support economic sanctions against Russia. rather than military engagement in Ukraine.

Citing recent polling data, Stokes argues that the public has “no appetite for significant military involvement in a region that few see as very important to U.S. interests” and that “even conservative Republicans oppose military assistance to Kiev, while Tea Party adherents are divided over the issue.”

After two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there reluctance is not surprising. However, reluctance and a desire to step off the global stage are not the same, according to two former senators.

Jon Jyl (R-Arizona) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) contend the popular contention that Americans wish to withdraw from our global leadership role is false – and historically, the public wants the US to remain engaged.

They argue that it is not enough to dispute the “the notion of growing isolationism,” but that the “groupthink that has taken hold in Washington” has to be countered.

“Even before recent events in Ukraine, Pew Center data shows that 56 percent of Americans want the country to remain a superpower, the same as five years ago. An overwhelming 84 percent want the United States to be a world leader, with many of those saying they want the country to be most active of all leading nations. Strikingly, Americans have given the same answer to this question in a dozen polls over the past 20 years,” they assert.

The senators point to data from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reaching back to 1947 that shows consistent and robust support for taking “an active part in world affairs” – a trend supported in the most recent survey.

“Sixty-one percent of Americans favored an active role in their most down from a post-9/11 high of 71 percent, but right in line with typical numbers from the 1980s and 1990s,” they write and add that “the strength Americans want to see and running headlong into war, guns ablaze, are not the same thing.”


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