So much for “American first.”
As tensions between the US, its regional allies and North Korea escalate to levels unseen since the end of the Korea war, more Americans are saying they would support some form of military action against the country as a “last resort” should the US’s “diplomatic efforts” fail to convince the regime to surrender, or at least arrest, its nuclear program, according to a Gallup poll.
“As North Korea continues to launch test missiles and issue provocative threats against the U.S. and its allies in the region, a majority of Americans appear ready to support military action against that country, at least as a last resort. More specifically, 58% say they would favor taking military action against North Korea if economic and diplomatic efforts fail to achieve the United States' goals. This is significantly higher than the 47% in favor the last time Gallup asked this, in 2003.”
The magnitude of the increase – more than 10 percentage points – represents a significant shift, according to the survey’s author, Lydia Saad. Even after Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon let slip that the US doesn’t have a viable military alternative for North Korea - at least, not one that wouldn’t end with hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties in Seoul - the president’s rhetoric (though growing a little tired) appears to have struck a chord with Americans, and particularly his conservative base, who voted for him on a platform of foreign noninterventionism that has been totally abandoned by his administration.
According to Saad, the increase has been almost entirely partisan, with the percentage of Democrats who support war remaining relatively steady at around 40%, while the percentage of Republicans who would support a military intervention rose 23 percentage points to 82%.
“U.S. attitudes about striking North Korea are partisan, as they were in 2003. Eighty-two percent of Republicans in the Sept. 6-10 Gallup poll say they would favor military action if peaceful means fail, compared with 37% of Democrats.
The percentage of Democrats who favor military action has hardly changed since 2003: 37% now vs. 41% then. The major shift has been among Republicans, whose support for military action is up 23 percentage points, while independents' support is up 15 points.”
The survey compares contemporary American attitudes with public sentiment in 2002, when President George W Bush grouped North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, as part of an “axis of evil.”
“Longstanding tensions over North Korea's nuclear program came to the surface in 2002, when George W. Bush described North Korea as "a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens."
He also grouped it with Iran and Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" that was "arming to threaten the peace of the world."
Later that year, North Korea revealed it had been maintaining a nuclear program in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and soon afterward, in January 2003, Gallup first measured Americans' views about how to handle the regime.
At that time, 72% of Americans were optimistic that the situation involving North Korea could be resolved using only economic and diplomatic efforts. Far fewer today, 50%, believe nonmilitary pressure can work, while nearly as many, 45%, are skeptical.”
Gallup also points out that, unsurprisingly, there’s a “strong relationship” between respondents’ beliefs about the effectiveness of diplomacy and their support, or opposition, to military action.
“Notably, there is a strong relationship between Americans' views on the effectiveness of diplomacy and their support for taking military action against North Korea. Those who are skeptical of the value of diplomacy are more likely than those who believe diplomacy can work to say they would favor using military action if peaceful means fail - 75% vs. 43%, respectively.”
North Korea’s leaders are probably aware that firing a missile at the US, Japan or South Korea would be tantamount to suicide. In a finding that might explain investors’ nonplussed reaction to the North’s repeated provocations, Gallup found that most Americans believe Kim Jong Un is bluffing.
“Despite North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's fiery rhetoric in recent months about destroying the U.S. mainland, far less than half of Americans, 38%, consider it likely that North Korea will take military action against the U.S. in the next six months. This is up from 28% in the prior measure from 2013 but is still the distinct minority view.”
Still, most have been following the story.
“Regardless, news about North Korea's recent testing of missiles and nuclear weapons has certainly caught Americans' attention. The 83% saying they have been following the story very or somewhat closely is among the highest for any major news story Gallup has measured, ranking 15th out of more than 200 stories rated since 1991.”
In summary, while military action remains unlikely, Americans would support some type of action – be it a tactical strike or full-on invasion – if the Kim regime continues to launch rockets over Japan. If the latest round of watered-down UN sanctions is any indication, the security council is reaching the limits of its powers to economically punish the North.
Perhaps the survey’s findings will lend some added heft to Trump’s belligerent warnings.