Cutting Defense: Are We STUCK?

By Joe Scarry, reprinted with permission from Scarry Thoughts

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a study this week based on survey data collected from over 2,000 respondents.

The survey has important data on Americans’ attitudes toward foreign affairs and military issues, and includes comparative data from previous surveys stretching back decades. You can access Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment for free on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs website.

I’ve noticed four findings that are of special interest to me, starting with the following observation about American attitudes toward reducing military spending.

The bar graph reproduced below shows respondents attitudes toward U.S. military budgets, based on surveys conducted between 1974 and 2014.

Source: Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Here’s what’s striking to me: between 1990 (the dissolution of the Soviet Union) and 2002 (immediately after 9/11), there was a clear trend toward stronger and stronger support for expanding, and decreasing support for cutting back, defense spending. (Notably, there is always a core of 40% of the public who say “keep it the same.”)

That trend was brought to a halt in 2004. By that time, the U.S. was engaged in two wars: in Iraq — ostensibly to stop the spread of WMD — and in Afghanistan — ostensibly to punish the perpetrators of 9/11 and protect the United States.

Where have we ended up?  Right now we’re “stuck” — the portion of the public that wants to cut military spending has hovered in the high 20%s since 2004; it just can’t seem to break the 30% barrier. (The percentage of people in favor of expansion is about the same.)

This leads me to two conclusions:

(1) We have had some success in the past decade in publicizing the idea of defense reductions.

(2) We need to do a lot more to move the needle — and reach a critical mass of supporters who can bring about real reductions.

It also stimulates me to ask: how much of the change in attitudes toward defense spending is stemming from the growth in Tea Party and/or libertarian sentiment, as opposed to traditional antiwar sentiment?

And . . . to the degree that we are stuck . . . is it because we have failed to join the energies of these several strands of sentiment into a single, clearly articulated, impactful movement for defense reduction?

Watch this space for comments on other findings, relating to fighting terrorism, U.S.-conducted assassinations, and protecting American jobs.

Check out Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment for your self and see what conclusions YOU draw!

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