The late great 1960’s pop singer Bobby Darin hid away in Big Sur for months following the death of Robert Kennedy and revelations about his own life. In the process of finding himself and changing his music to more of a folk style, in 1969 he penned one of the great anti-Vietnam War anthems of the era, A Simple Song of Freedom:
Now no doubt some folks enjoy doin’ battle Like presidents, prime ministers and kings So let us build them shelves Where they can fight among themselves And leave the people be who like to sing.
Come and sing a simple song of freedom Sing it like you’ve never sung before Let it fill the air, tell the people everywhere We, the people here don’t want a war.
It’s like a lot of Americans have just emerged from Big Sur because there is clearly no will to go to war. History will record that this is not an Obama Phenomenon but Americans still in the midst of the Post-Vietnam Era. Indeed, when Zogby International first began to do daily tracking among American voters a few weeks after the tragedy of 9-11, we found very strong support for launching a war on terror, but we tested intensity levels of support for such a war by adding hypothetical durations incrementally. Initially support for the war on terror was 91%. But if such a “war on terror” were to last 6 months to a year”, support fell to 77%? How about 1-2 years? 67%. What about more than 2 years? Down to 57%. And we were still in September 2001.
We were still doing daily tracking in the lead up to the War in Iraq in March 2003. Support and opposition for going to war were evenly split 48 hours before the beginning of the “shock and awe” bombing. Once American bombs and boots hit the ground, Americans rallied. They had learned another powerful lesson from Vietnam about abandoning fellow citizens who make extreme sacrifices in their name. But six weeks after the war began, support began to wane.
The flashpoints today are numerous and so are the horrible videos. How do human beings simply watch the events in Syria? The Ukraine? South Sudan? For God’s sake, the brazen kidnappings of schoolgirls in emerging Nigeria? And we sit there? Is there a failure in leadership? Should the President be making a stronger case for American-led interventions?
The facts are clear. The United States can become involved militarily only if certain conditions are met. Do we have sufficient resources to make a difference? Will our involvement make a difference? Will we make it better? Perhaps, above all, will it be quick? Those are very tough questions and they did not fly in Iraq, Afghanistan, or even Libya after a while. It is hard to find a positive response to any of the questions in Syria or Ukraine. Remember, when Ronald Reagan was faced with a similar situation in Lebanon after the bombing that killed 254 Marines, he chose instead to invade the island of Granada and pull out of Lebanon altogether.
But the real question is whether or not the American people will support it. And on this, a new poll by Zogby Analytics (893 likely voters, May 2-3) provides the haunting answers and questions.
“Do you agree or disagree that the United States should use whatever means it can to prevent Russia from establishing control over eastern Ukraine?” Agree — 29% Disagree – 36% Not Sure – 35%
This is one area where all parties are in lock step. Democrats are wary: 34% agree, 33% disagree, 33% are not sure; Republicans are wary 29% agree, 41% disagree, 30% are not sure; and independents are wary 23% agree, 36% disagree, and 40% are not sure. The poll shows no one group ready to serve as an anchor or a prod to other groups.
Is there anything America is ready to fight for?, The Economist asks in its latest issue. The Zogby Analytics poll has not found it yet.
I am sure, the “anything” would have to involve some direct threat to American lives and interests. And no case has been, nor perhaps can be, made for that. So for now, in the words of Bobby Darin:
I say, let it fill the air, tell the people everywhere We, the people here don’t want a war
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