Those Who ‘Have Borne the Battle’ Want a More Restrained Foreign Policy
For nearly two decades, our leaders in Washington have bogged down our country in a series of "endless wars," costing thousands of American lives and trillions of taxpayer dollars. These costly conflicts have placed immense pressure on military families and the veterans who have shouldered the burdens of multiple deployments to different combat zones.
Not surprisingly, a growing majority of veterans and military families support a more restrained foreign policy according to recent polling by our organization, Concerned Veterans for America, and others. When you consider the high level of public support for the veteran and military community, along with that community’s concentration in key election battleground states, elected officials and candidates for public office should pay particular attention to this group’s opinions.
The veteran population across the U.S. is approximately 18 million, with 2.1 million individuals currently serving in the active and reserve components of our Armed Forces. There are also 2.6 million family members of those serving in the active duty and reserve forces.
Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina — three battleground states that will likely play a decisive role in the 2020 election — have populations of veterans that are significantly larger than the national average. All three states are also home to large military installations, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, that host high numbers of active duty military personnel and their families. Considering the narrow margins of recent elections in these states, it’s not a stretch to say the veteran and military family voting bloc will have a significant impact on the outcome of the 2020 election.
Our poll surveyed a sample of roughly 1,500 veterans and military families across the country in early April, on issues pertaining to foreign policy, veteran benefits and health care, and federal spending. The respondents were screened to ensure they reflected a proper representation of the veterans and military family population. Like our 2019 survey, we used the same polling methodology and many of the same questions.
On questions related to foreign policy, there were high levels of support for less military intervention abroad. Fifty-seven percent of veterans believe the United States should be less militarily engaged around the world — a nine percentage point increase from 2019. Seventy-three percent of veterans and 69 percent of military families would support President Donald Trump if he withdrew all our troops from Afghanistan — up 13 and 9 points, respectively, from the previous year. In regard to Iraq, 71 percent of veterans and 69 percent of military families would also support the president if he withdrew American forces from the country.
This poll is not the only recent survey to reflect increasing disenchantment among veterans with U.S. foreign policy. A Pew Research poll from summer 2019 found that a majority of veterans believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t worth fighting. Additionally, a poll conducted earlier this year by the Charles Koch Institute and YouGov found that over two-thirds of Americans support a full withdrawal from both countries.
As veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, these results are no surprise to us. We served with many individuals who are still in uniform and still deploying to the same places we fought in years ago. Ground has been taken, lost to ISIS or Taliban fighters, and retaken repeatedly over the course of these conflicts. And painfully, too many of our brothers- and sisters-in-arms have been severely wounded or killed in action.
While we remain enormously proud of our service, we are convinced these conflicts lack a clear strategic value and are not making our nation safer. Veterans, military families, and the American public increasingly and overwhelmingly agree.
Withdrawing all U.S. troops from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is good policy. It will allow the United States to focus our increasingly strained national resources on more pressing priorities. And based on the results of our poll and others, pursuing a more restrained foreign policy is good politics as well.
Politicians cannot ignore that the majority of veterans sent to fight on our behalf are increasingly questioning the foreign policy status quo, nor can they ignore the strong majority of the broader American public who believe in ending our “forever wars.” Going forward, if our elected leaders wish to be true representatives of their constituents, they would do well to adopt a smarter, more restrained foreign policy.
Nate Anderson is the executive director of Concerned Veterans for America and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Dan Caldwell is a senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, the foreign policy campaign manager for Stand Together, and a veteran of the war in Iraq.