When should the United States intervene militarily?

A new BBC World News America/Harris Poll examines American attitudes to U.S. military intervention in other countries, from Afghanistan and Bosnia to Libya and Darfur, and finds that there are widespread disagreements about almost all of the six countries where the U.S. intervened and three countries where it did not.However there was widespread agreement that the U.S. should not be the "world's policeman" (67% to 11%) and that each case where intervention is possible should be considered separately rather than using a predetermined set of policies (63% vs. 25%). The poll also found that there are six circumstances where a majority of the public believes that in general it is right for the U.S. to intervene militarily. These are some of the findings of a new BBC World News America/Harris Poll of 2,483 U.S. adults surveyed online between April 8 and 12, 2011 by Harris Interactive. The main findings of the poll include: * Only 31% of all adults feel that President Obama has explained clearly when the U.S. should and should not use military force. Many are not sure (25%), while 44% believe he has not been clear; * Large numbers of people (22% or more) are not sure whether or not it was right to intervene in six countries where U.S. troops or airplanes have been used, and in some cases almost half the country is unsure (47% are unsure about Bosnia and 47% are unsure about Somalia); * A sizable 47% to 27% plurality believes that intervening in Afghanistan was the right thing to do but opinion is more or less evenly divided on U.S. intervention in Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Kosovo; * Even larger numbers have no opinions on three cases where the U.S. did not use military force - the Ivory Coast (53% not sure), Darfur (45% not sure) and Rwanda (also 45% not sure). Of those with opinions, a 32% to 15% plurality believes the U.S. was right to not intervene in the Ivory Coast, while opinions are equally split on Darfur and Rwanda; * There is widespread support for military intervention under the following circumstances: to prevent terrorist attacks on the U.S. (79%), to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists (78%), if a strong and friendly ally is attacked (74%), to prevent a country that is hostile to the United States from building nuclear weapons (71%), if a dictator is killing large numbers of their own people (66%) and to overthrow a dictator who is very hostile to the U.S. (55%); * Only 33% favor the use of U.S. force to change a dictatorship into a democracy; * The replies concerning Libya are somewhat contradictory - while only 32% of the public think it was right to intervene there, 40% think the president should have intervened earlier (20%) or that he intervened at the right time (20%), with 25% saying he should not have intervened at all; and, * With one exception, the majorities in favor of using U.S. military force are conditional on the U.S. having strong support from other countries. The exception: a 61% majority believes that the U.S. should use force to prevent terror attacks on the U.S. even if it is not strongly supported by allies. Far fewer think the U.S. should use force unilaterally to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists (46%), to prevent a hostile country from building nuclear weapons (31%), or if a dictator is killing large numbers of his own people (22%). While the public is split on many of the issues addressed in this poll, the big picture is rather clear. In the abstract, most Americans favor the use of force to intervene in other countries under some circumstances but not others. With rare exception however, most people do not favor the unilateral use of force; having strong allies is very important to many people and the approach is pragmatic; they believe each and every case should be considered on its merits rather than by a set of rules or principles. In most of the specific cases where the U.S. has or has not intervened over the last 20 years the public is split, with the strongest plurality in favor of intervention regarding Afghanistan and the strongest opposition regarding Iraq. Contributed by Harris Interactive.

********** Published: April 28, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 2