Voters tend to oppose sending any troops back to Iraq and do not think it was a mistake to pull out in 2011 - but there is tentative support for air strikes
One week ago fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized Iraq's third largest city, Mosul. Despite being some 30,000 strong the Iraqi army quickly collapsed in the face of the group, with mass desertions that saw ISIS fighters able to loot army bases and take modern, often US-made, military equipment. The dramatic success of ISIS on the battlefield has already transformed Iraq's political landscape, with the Kurdish Regional Government taking control of the disputed city of Kirkuk and Iran and the United States unexpectedly finding themselves on the same side of the battle against ISIS.
The latest research from YouGov shows that, asked whether the US should intervene militarily to prop up the Baghdad government, most Americans are against any plans that would involve boots on the ground. 67% oppose sending combat troops back to the country, while 55% oppose sending troops to assist the Iraqi Army. Support for strikes on ISIS if Iraqi government maintains its request for US air strikes is, however, much higher. 48% of the country would support air strikes in Iraq, while 52% would support expanding the program of drone strikes to the country.
Opposition to sending troops to Iraq may not be entirely due to weariness after nearly thirteen years of war, but also because of doubts over the ability of the US to actually have a positive impact. Only 19% say that US intervention would defeat the insurgents and restore the power of the Iraqi government, while 25% say that the insurgents would be defeated but the Iraqi government would still be ineffectual. 34% think that US intervention would do little to change anything.
One of the main criticisms of the administration in recent days has been that the decision to withdraw in 2011 was premature. Most Americans (61%) say that the withdrawal was not a mistake, though Republicans narrowly tend to say it was (43%) rather than was not (37%) a mistake to withdraw. Most Americans (51%) also say that it was a mistake to send troops to fight in Iraq in the first place.
President Obama's response to the crisis in Iraq had been muted, but this morning the administration announced that a small contingent of soldiers - only 275 troops - would be sent to Iraq, to protect the US embassy in Baghdad and potentially assist in securing the airport to keep open routes into and out of the country for Americans in Iraq. It is highly unlikely that American soldiers will be send to fight in Iraq, or even to assist the Iraqi army, but the Iraqi government has been requesting US air strikes on ISIS forces in the country for some time.