Chapter 3

The Power of Deterrence, Trade, and Diplomacy

In This Chapter

  • 52%

    consider maintaining US superior military power a “very important” foreign policy goal

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  • 87%

    see maintaining existing alliances with new countries as effective ways to achieve US foreign policy goals

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  • 59%

    want to maintain as many long-term overseas bases as there are now

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  • 65%

    say that globalization is mostly a good thing

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  • 65%

    consider sanctions at least somewhat effective in achieving US foreign policy goals

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  • 61%

    support active diplomatic efforts to resolve conflicts with North Korea

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  • 71%

    favor US participation in an international treaty that addresses climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions

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  • 64%

    say strengthening the United Nations is an effective approach to achieving US foreign policy goals

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  • 70%

    think the US government should be listening in on the governments of China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Russia

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  • 59%

    favor cutting federal spending on military aid and economic aid

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As they have for decades, Americans today broadly support multiple forms of engagement. These forms of engagement include alliances, trade agreements, economic and military aid, international treaties, strategic uses of sanctions, and diplomacy. Even those who say they would like the United States to “stay out” of world affairs support these forms of global engagement, with solid majorities considering alliances, diplomacy, trade agreements, sanctions, and treaties effective ways to realize US foreign policy goals (figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1

The 2014 Chicago Council Survey demonstrates that while Americans are generally reluctant to use US military forces for overseas intervention, they nevertheless consider US military superiority one of the most effective ways to achieve US foreign policy goals. They also continue to support maintaining a long-term US military presence overseas, presumably for its effect as a deterrent against potential aggression or as a muscular tool to back diplomatic efforts. In addition, for the past 40 years, majorities have backed the US commitment to NATO.

Americans support maintaining US military superiority.

Even though Americans consider economic strength more important than military might to a nation’s power and influence, a majority of Americans consider maintaining US superior military power a “very important” foreign policy goal (52%). Maintaining US military superiority reached a high point as a “very important” goal in 2002 (68%), but the current level is on par with 2004 and 1994 (50%).

In addition, nine in ten Americans view military superiority as an effective way to achieve US foreign policy goals (47% “very” effective, 37% “somewhat” effective) (figure 3.1). Seven in ten also support a US military presence overseas, with 71 percent in favor of maintaining (59%) or increasing (12%) the number of long-term US bases abroad. But more often than not, as demonstrated in chapter 2, Americans are reluctant to deploy these forces in specific scenarios.

Despite disillusionment with recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are not calling for drastic cuts in defense spending as they did in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, more Americans continue to favor either maintaining (39%) or increasing (25%) defense spending than cutting it back (28%) (figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2

Continued support for maintaining military presence overseas

A majority of Americans have consistently supported a military posture overseas. Today, six in ten (59%) want to maintain as many long-term overseas bases as there are now, up from 52% in 2012 and the highest level ever recorded. Of the rest, 12 percent would increase long-term overseas bases (up from 9% in 2012) and 29 percent would like to decrease the number (down from 38% in 2012).

Americans believe that the US military presence abroad helps increase regional stability in the Middle East (56%) and East Asia (63%). Yet, they are less supportive of maintaining military bases in specific countries in the Middle East and South Asia. The public is divided over US military basing in Kuwait (47% support, 49% oppose), and majorities oppose bases in Turkey (54%, down from 57% in 2012), Iraq (56%, up from 53% in 2012), and Pakistan (59%, similar to 58% in 2012). A majority also opposes bases in Afghanistan (54% oppose, same as in 2012). In a separate question, only 33 percent say that the United States should leave some US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 for training, anti-insurgency and counter-terrorism activities.

Americans continue to be committed to alliances, including the NATO alliance and relationships with Pacific allies.

Besides superior military power, large majorities also see maintaining existing alliances (87%) and building alliances with new countries (80%) as effective ways to achieve US foreign policy goals, though they are more likely to consider them “somewhat” rather than “very” effective, up 4 points from 2012 (figure 3.1).

In line with this assessment, majorities since 1974 have consistently said that our commitment to NATO should remain the same as it is now or should be increased. The current results show that 66 percent think the commitment to NATO should remain as it as it is now, with 12 percent desiring an increase. Only 7 percent want to withdraw entirely from NATO.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.5

This reading is on the high end of endorsement for NATO, perhaps in reaction to recent events in Ukraine (figure 3.3).

Reversing a previous trend, a majority of Americans now say that Europe is more important to the United States than Asia (55% Europe, 44% Asia). But Americans do not discount their allies in the Pacific. In fact, a larger majority now than two years ago sup- ports US government’s plans “to pivot our diplomatic and military resources away from the Middle East and Europe and more towards Asia” (60%, an increase of 6 percentage points since 2012).

In addition to their European alliances, Americans feel very favorable towards their key allies in Asia, especially South Korea and Japan. Large majorities of Americans view Japan as a partner rather than a rival to the United States (80% partner to 16% mostly rivals). The same is true for US-Korea relations (70% partner to 27% mostly rivals). And a solid majority (59%, up 6 points from 2012) continues to think the United States should put a higher priority on its partnership with traditional allies like South Korea and Japan, “even if this might diminish our relations with China.” Only one in three (33%, down from 40% in 2012) holds the opposing view, saying that the United States should place a higher priority on building a new partnership with China “even if this might diminish US relations with our traditional allies” (figure 3.4).

Support for alliances is reflected in the “feelings” that Americans have toward many countries. Asked their general views about friends and allies, Americans feel more positive now than they have in Chicago Council Surveys going back to 1990. For example, Americans give ratings of at least 55 on a scale from 0 to 100 (with 100 being the most favorable feelings) to Canada (79), Great Britain (74), Germany (65), Japan (62), France (61), Israel (59), Brazil (58), and South Korea (55). In many cases these are the highest rat- ings that have ever been recorded in Chicago Council Surveys (figure 3.5).

While Americans support alliances in general, chapter 2 shows that narrow majorities do not support using US forces to protect particular allies asked about, including Israel, South Korea, Taiwan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, if they come under hypothetical attack.

Support for maintaining military presence overseas remains stable.

Figure 3.6

In line with the desire to maintain superior military power worldwide, a majority of Americans have con- sistently supported a military posture overseas. Today, six in ten (59%) want to maintain as many long-term overseas bases as there are now, up from 52 percent in 2012 and the highest level ever recorded (figure 3.6). Of the rest, 12 percent would increase long-term overseas bases (up from 9% in 2012), and 29 percent would like to decrease the number (down from 38% in 2012).

Americans believe that the US military presence abroad helps increase regional stability in the Middle East (56%) and East Asia (62%). Yet, they are less sup- portive of maintaining military bases in specific coun- tries in the Middle East and South Asia. The public is divided over having US military bases in Kuwait (47% support, 49% oppose), while majorities oppose bases in Turkey (54%, down from 57% in 2012), Iraq (56%, up from 53% in 2012), and Pakistan (59%, similar to 58% in 2012). A majority also opposes bases in Afghanistan (54% oppose, same as in 2012). In a separate ques- tion, only 33 percent say that the United States should leave some US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 for training, anti-insurgency, and counterterrorism activi- ties. The rest say that either the United States should bring all combat troops home as scheduled by the end of 2014 (41%) or withdraw them before the end of 2014 (26%).14

The lack of support for bases in the Middle East and South Asia may be linked to dissatisfaction with the wars of the past decade. For example, those who say the Iraq war was not worth the costs are, on average, 22 percentage points less likely to support bases in the Middle East and South Asia. Nevertheless, majorities of Americans also oppose having US bases in Poland (60%) and Australia (55%, down from 58% in 2012).

On the other hand, majorities of Americans support long-term US military bases in areas where they already have—or have had—them, including South Korea (64%, up from 60% in 2012), Germany (57%, up from 51% in 2012), Japan (55%, up from 51% in 2012), the Philippines (51%, down from 66% in 2002), and Guantanamo Bay (51%, down from 60% in 2008). Since 2002, when Chicago Council Surveys began asking the question, majorities of Americans have consistently supported bases in Germany, South Korea, Japan, and Guantanamo Bay. In fact, the percentage supporting bases in South Korea is at its highest point yet.

Americans show strong support for globalization and trade.

Figure 3.7

Despite the continuing effects of the Great Recession, Americans remain broadly supportive of globalization and free trade. In fact, far from a rise in protectionist sentiments, public views on globalization have returned to 2004 levels. Two out of three Americans say that globalization is mostly a good thing (65% vs. 34% bad thing), the highest recorded percentage to feel this way since the question was first asked in 1998 (figure 3.7).

Self-described Democrats have consistently expressed positive views of globalization, increasingly so since 1998 and especially so after 2008. Opinions of globalization among Republicans and Independents became less positive after the 2008 recession, but since then have more or less recovered to prerecession levels (figure 3.8).

Asked about trade agreements specifically, half the public (50%) favors agreements to lower trade barriers provided the government has programs to help workers who lose their jobs. Another 14 percent favor trade agreements but oppose the governments’ programs to help workers who lose their jobs. One in three (31%) opposes agreements to lower trade barriers regardless of programs to help the unemployed, the lowest proportion yet. Since this question was first asked in 2004, opinion has been quite stable, with a plurality of Americans (between 43% and 50%) supporting trade agreements with a provision for the unemployed (figure 3.9).

This general support for trade agreements is reflected in more specific situations. Majorities of Americans support both of the two far-reaching trade agreements that the United States is currently pursuing. Six in ten Americans support the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe (62%, 29% oppose). A similar proportion support the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated among a dozen Pacific Rim countries (63%, 31% oppose). Public support for these agreements is impressive given that the text of these agreements has been neither completed nor publicized. This suggests that public backing of these agreements is based on broad support for the idea of trade agreements rather than knowledge of the specifics. Indeed, seven in ten (72%, up 5 points since 2012) say that signing free trade agreements is an effective means to achieve foreign policy objectives.

While public support for trade is broad, not all Americans are aware of some of their top trading partners. Japan and South Korea are among the United States’ top 10 trading partners, with Japan holding the fourth spot, and South Korea just above the United Kingdom in sixth, according to June 2014 US Census Bureau figures. While a majority of Americans correctly place Japan among America’s top 10 trading partners (62%), only a minority knows that South Korea also belongs in this group (24%). A plurality of Americans instead believe that South Korea ranks among America’s top 20 but not top 10 trading partners (44%); fewer say so of Japan (28%). Similar results from a Chicago Council Survey in late 2013 revealed that only one in five Americans (20%) knew that Mexico ranks among the top five trading partners of the United States. (June 2014 Census figures place Mexico third.) Nearly half (49%) believe instead that Mexico is among the top 10 but outside the top five, while 27 percent think it is not among the top 10 US trade partners.

Figure 3.8
Figure 3.9

Targeted sanctions are more palatable than military actions in conflict situations.

While trade agreements are seen as an effective economic tool for achieving foreign policy goals, so too are economic sanctions. Two in three Americans (65%, up 3 percentage points since 2012) consider sanctions at least somewhat effective in achieving US foreign policy goals. Fully eight in ten Americans support the UN Security Council placing sanctions on Iran if it commits a major violation of the interim treaty (83%, slightly higher than the 77 percent who favor continuing diplomatic efforts). A majority also supports the United States increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria (67%); the next most popular option was enforcing a no-fly zone (48%). And in the case of Ukraine, according to an April 2014 Pew Research Center/USA Today poll, 53 percent of Americans support sanctioning Putin’s government in response to the Ukraine crisis, while 36 percent oppose such a move (one in ten are unsure).15

Americans strongly support diplomacy, even with hostile nations or actors.

As in the past, Americans continue to support active diplomatic efforts to resolve international conflicts, including with hostile parties. Since 2008 Americans have said that US leaders should be ready to meet and talk with leaders from nations or organizations that are unfriendly or hostile to the United States, including Cuba (73%) and Iran (67%). Six in ten (61%) say the same about North Korea. Half favor talking with the Taliban, Hezbollah, and Hamas (though this survey was fielded prior to the August 2014 clashes between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza) (table 3.1). In addition, six in ten (62%) support the interim agreement between Iran and the United States, and nearly eight in ten (77%) support diplomatic efforts to stop Iranian enrichment. A large majority of Americans (85%) also support continuing diplomatic efforts to get North Korea to suspend its nuclear weapons program. And two in three (67%) support the United States and its allies increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions on the Assad regime in Syria.

Support is solid for the treaty on climate change and Law of the Sea.

Over the past decade, majorities of Americans have consistently supported international treaties and agreements, ranging from the ban on land mines and the nuclear test ban treaty to the International Criminal Court and Kyoto agreements. This year is no different. Seven in ten Americans (71%, up from 67% in 2012) favor US participation in an international treaty that addresses climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Majorities also favor US participation in international treaties to regulate trade in small arms (68%), establish rights for people with disabilities (76%), and a Law of the Sea treaty regulating the international use of the world’s oceans and marine natural resources (83%). While majorities across party lines support these treaties, self-described Democrats are at least 18 percentage points higher in their support for these treaties except for the Law of the Sea, where there are no partisan differences.

Figure 3.10

Strengthening the UN is seen as effective, but is not a high foreign policy priority.

Two in three Americans (64%) say that strengthening the United Nations is an effective approach to achieving US foreign policy goals, and nearly as many (59%) believe the United States should be more willing to make decisions within the UN even if this means that the United States will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice (figure 3.10). A majority also supports working through the United Nations to strengthen international laws against terrorism and to make sure UN members enforce them (78%).

Yet strengthening the United Nations does not rank as a top goal for Americans. From 1974 to 2002, about half said that strengthening the United Nations was a “very important” goal. Since 2004, however, no more than four in ten have said that strengthening the United Nations is a very important goal (figure 3.11). This may reflect a partisan divide that emerged in the wake of the Iraq war, which was hotly debated in the UN Security Council before its start in 2003. Since 2004, fewer Republicans and Independents consider strengthening the United Nations a “very important” goal, while the percentage of Democrats who favor doing so has remained more or less constant over the past decade.

On another question, a much smaller majority now than in 1974 says that the US role in the founding of the United Nations was “a proud moment” in US history (59% vs. 81% in 1974). More now than in 1974 say that the US role in the founding of the United Nations is neither a proud nor a dark moment (20%, up from 9% in 1974, with more saying they are unsure (12% now, 5% in 1974). The 40-year time difference likely accounts for this change. But when asked the same question about the US role in World War II, an identical percentage today as in 1974 says the US role in WWII is a proud moment in American history (68% in both 1974 and 2014).

The United Nation’s peacekeeping, cultural, and humanitarian efforts are seen as more effective than its approaches toward more hard-hitting threats. About six in ten (61%) think the United Nations is doing a good job at sending peacekeeping troops to conflict zones, protecting the cultural heritage of the world (61%), leading international efforts to combat hunger (57%), and protecting and supporting refugees around the world (57%). But the public is more divided on whether the United Nation is doing a good or bad job at authorizing the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security (51% good, 45% bad), preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons (50% good, 47% bad), imposing sanctions to punish countries that violate international law (50% good, 46% bad), and resolving international conflicts through negotiations (50% good, 46% bad).

Figure 3.11
Figure 3.12

Majorities oppose spying on friends, but support spying on countries they view unfavorably.

Several American allies have been vocal about their resentment of US surveillance programs in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations. Majorities of Americans oppose spying on their allies—to varying degrees—including Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. But they do see some utility in keeping an ear on countries for which they have unfavorable views. Seven in ten or more think the US government should be listening in on the governments of China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Russia. They are divided on Mexico (50% yes, 47% no) (figure 3.12).

Some of these countries were included in the 1994 Chicago Council Survey with the identical question on spying. Compared to 1994, even more Americans now favor spying on China (67% in 1994), Mexico (34% in 1994), North Korea (66% in 1994), and Russia (63% in 1994).

Americans appear to be fairly comfortable with current methods of obtaining communications data. About one in three (35%) thinks that restrictions on the National Security Agency should remain the same, with 12 percent wanting fewer restrictions. Another third (34%) think restrictions should be increased. And a plurality (41%) says the budget for general information- gathering activities of the CIA and NSA should remain the same as it is now.

In the tradeoff between security and privacy on this matter, Americans choose security. Seven in ten say that it is more important right now “for the federal government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy” (68%). In contrast, three in ten think it is more important for the federal government not to intrude on personal privacy, even if that limits its ability to investigate possible terrorist attacks (31%).

Public would give more to foreign aid than actual levels in federal budget.

Consistent with every Chicago Council Survey since 1974, Americans favor cutting federal spending on military aid (59%) and economic aid (60%) to other countries. But other polls have shown that Americans also tend to overstate the actual amounts appropriated for these categories.16 In fact, in a new budget exercise included in the 2014 survey, Americans say that out of $100, they would give $4.34 to economic assistance and $4.13 to military assistance for other countries. Translated into percentages of a real budget, this would constitute spending 8.48 percent on international assistance, vastly higher than the actual level, which was 1.4 percent in 2012.

Support is stronger for foreign aid to Africa than countries in Mideast, South Asia

The public gives very different responses when questioned about aid to specific countries. Americans tend to support maintaining or increasing economic aid to African countries, Israel, and Ukraine. On the other hand, they tend to favor decreasing or ceasing economic aid to countries in South Asia and the Middle East, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Egypt (figure 3.13).

Americans tend to support maintaining or increasing military aid to Israel, Taiwan, and Mexico. In a pattern similar to preferences for economic aid, the public tends to favor decreasing or stopping military aid to Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq, though this question was asked before the August violence between Israel and the Palestinians and the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq (figure 3.14).

Figure 3.13
Figure 3.14

Conclusion

Much discussion of American views on foreign policy focus solely on their opinion towards the large-scale deployment of US troops abroad. While this is certainly a critical area of U.S. foreign policy, it is far from the only means by which America engages the world. Nor is it a frequent one. Americans continue to support a wide variety of engagement, ranging from an international military presence and espionage to dialogue with hostile actors and international trade. They see benefits to multilateral cooperation enshrined in alliances, trade agreements, treaties, and working through the United Nations. While they do not shy away from using force if necessary, they prefer diplomatic approaches and economic sanctions to address many critical threats. Taken together, the results in this report underscore the public’s consistent and stable support for American engagement abroad.

Methodology

This report is based on the results of a survey commissioned by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The 2014 edition of the survey is the latest effort in a series of wide-ranging biennial surveys on American attitudes towards US foreign policy.

The survey was conducted from May 6 to 29, 2014, among a representative national sample of 2,108 adults, including an oversample of 311 Hispanic respondents. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is +/- 2.5, including a design effect of 1.46. The survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research, a polling, social science, and market research firm in Palo Alto, California. The survey was fielded to a total of 3,905 panel members, including 759 in the Hispanic oversample, yielding a total of 2,243 completed surveys. Of the total completes, 1,914 were from the main sample (a completion rate of 61%) and 339 were from the Hispanic oversample (a completion rate of 45%). The median survey length was 37 minutes.

Of the 2,243 total completed surveys, 142 cases were excluded for quality control reasons, leaving a final sample size of 2,108 respondents:

Respondents were excluded if they failed at least one of three key checks:

  1. Respondents who completed the survey in 10 minutes or less.
  2. Respondents who refused to answer half of the items in the survey or more.
  3. Respondents who failed three or four of the following:
    1. Completed the survey in 10 minutes or less.
    2. Did not accurately input “4,” refused or skipped the question that was specifically designed to make sure respondents were paying attention. (“In order to make sure that your browser is working correctly, please select number 4 from the list below.”)
    3. Refused one or more full lists that included five items or more (of which there were 22 such lists).
    4. Respondents who gave exactly the same answer (“straight-lined”) to every item on one of the four longest lists in the survey (Q5, Q7, Q50 or Q55).

The survey was fielded using a randomly selected sample of GfK’s large-scale nationwide research panel, KnowledgePanel®. Prior to April 2009, the panel was recruited using stratified random digit dialing (RDD) telephone sampling, and now uses addressbased sampling (ABS) to cover the growing number of cellphone-only households (approximately 97% of households are covered this way). Currently, 40 percent of panel members were recruited through RDD, 60 percent with ABS.

For both RDD and ABS recruitment, households that agree to participate in the panel are provided with free Internet hardware and access (if necessary), which uses a telephone line to connect to the Internet and the television as a monitor. Thus, the sample is not limited to those in the population who already have Internet access.

The distribution of the sample in the Web-enabled panel closely tracks the distribution of United States Census counts for the US population 18 years of age or older on age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, geographical region, employment status, income, and education. To reduce the effects of any nonresponse and noncoverage bias in panel estimates, a poststratification raking adjustment is applied using demographic distributions from the most recent data from the Current Population Survey (CPS).

The poststratification weighting variables include age, gender, race, Hispanic ethnicity, and education. This weighting adjustment is applied prior to the selection of any sample from the KnowledgePanel and represents the starting weights for any sample. The following benchmark distributions were utilized for the poststratification weighting adjustment:

  • Gender (male, female)
  • Age (18-29, 30-44, 45-59 and 60-plus)
  • Race (white non-Hispanic, black non-Hispanic, other non-Hispanic, 2+ races non- Hispanic, Hispanic)
  • Education (less than high school, high school, some college, college degree or more)
  • Household income (less than $10K, $10-25K, $25-50K, $50-75K, $75-100K, $100K-plus)
  • Home ownership status (own, rent/other)
  • Census region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West)
  • Metropolitan area (yes, no)
  • Internet access (yes, no)
  • Primary language by Census region (non-Hispanic, Hispanic English proficient, Hispanic bilingual, Hispanic Spanish proficient)

Comparable distributions are calculated using all valid completed cases from the field data. Since study sample sizes are typically too small to accommodate a complete cross-tabulation of all the survey variables with the benchmark variables, an iterative proportional fitting is used for the poststratification weighting adjustment. This procedure adjusts the sample back to the selected benchmark proportions. Through an iterative convergence process, the weighted sample data are optimally fitted to the marginal distributions. After this final poststratification adjustment, the distribution of calculated weights is examined to identify and, if necessary, trim outliers at the extreme upper and lower tails of the weight distribution. The poststratified trimmed weights are then scaled to the sum of the total sample size of all eligible respondents.

In 2004 the Chicago Council Survey shifted from a mix of Internet and telephone polling to fully online polling, a shift that produces some mode differences. One difference appears to be that telephone respondents, who are talking to an interviewer, tend to give more “socially desirable” responses; they may be less likely, for example, to express approval of assassinations or torture. Another difference is that, for some questions with multiple alternatives, telephone respondents may tend to give more quick, “first choice” responses. Again, many or most Chicago Council Survey questions are unaffected by these tendencies. Still, inferences about opinion change in surveys from 2002 and prior require some caution.

For more information about the sample and survey methodology, please visit the GfK website.

  1. Four in ten (41%) Americans consider the possibility of the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan a critical threat. See figure 2.3 in chapter 2.
  2. “Bipartisan Support for Increased US Sanctions against Russia,” Pew Research Center, April 2014.
  3. “American Public Vastly Overestimates Amount of US Foreign Aid,” WorldPublicOpinion.org, November 29, 2010.