The Buzz

The 'Isolationist' Drone Warriors

The New York Times has a story this morning recapping a recent poll on U.S. public opinion toward the use of military force. Its main takeaway, as written in its first sentence, is that “Americans are exhibiting an isolationist streak, with majorities across party lines decidedly opposed to American intervention in North Korea or Syria.” Daniel Larison explains why this characterization of these results makes little sense:

Of course, there’s not really any evidence of “isolationism” in this poll. Overall, the public opposes starting wars in Syria and North Korea. . . . The only people who would seriously describe this position as “isolationist” are hard-liners and hawkish interventionists that like to describe everything other than their own position as some form of “isolationism” or “neo-isolationism.”

It should go without saying that opposition to intervention in Syria and North Korea by itself does not represent an “isolationist streak.” It seems safe to assume that a large majority of those who oppose American military action in those two countries still support continued trade and engagement with nations across the world, for example. Moreover, it is also perfectly clear that most of them support taking military action when they believe it is actually merited. This is seen in this very same poll, as the next paragraph of the Times article reads:

While the public does not support direct military action in those two countries right now, a broad 70 percent majority favor the use of remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, to carry out bombing attacks against suspected terrorists in foreign countries.

So, to recap: Americans are skeptical of getting involved in North Korea and Syria. But they also appear to be on board—by a substantial majority—with the ongoing campaign of drone strikes across several countries that has reportedly killed about 3,400 people with 411 strikes over the past decade, according to one averaged set of estimates. And yet somehow, for the Times, this all adds up to evidence of “isolationism” on the part of the U.S. public. It makes one wonder what exactly the paper would consider an “interventionist” approach.