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Liberal magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel said Americans are not supportive of action beyond airstrikes against the Islamic State. Liberal magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel said Americans are not supportive of action beyond airstrikes against the Islamic State.

Liberal magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel said Americans are not supportive of action beyond airstrikes against the Islamic State.

Steve Contorno
By Steve Contorno September 21, 2014

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Americans support airstrikes against ISIS but not ground troops

Progressives, wary of another open-ended conflict in the Middle East, are concerned President Barack Obama is bending to war hawks in Washington by using the military to stop the march of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

On ABC’s This Week, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the left-leaning magazine The Nation, said Obama has moved away from his foreign policy principle of "don’t do stupid stuff" and "surrendered to war party in both parties, to a media that has lathered up hysteria about a threat that is not an immediate threat to this country."

She questioned whether Americans are on board with increased military involvement.

"There's a barbarism and a gruesomeness to the videotapes (of the Islamic State beheading two American journalists) which have moved the American people at this stage to support strikes, but the support for ground troops is not there," vanden Heuvel said. "The support is very thin."

Did vanden Heuvel accurately capture the sentiment from Americans? We decided to take a look at the polling data.


At Obama’s direction, the military began a targeted airstrike campaign in Iraq earlier this month against the Islamic State, a terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria that is also called ISIS or ISIL.

We found a number of recent surveys that asked respondents how they felt about this decision.

As vanden Heuvel suggested, there’s significant majority support for airstrikes.

According to a CNN poll published Sept. 8, 76 percent of Americans backed additional airstrikes against the Islamic State. Just 23 percent opposed.

The results were consistent with several other recent polls.


Washington Post/ABC News (Sept. 4-7)

Reuters/Ipsos (Sept. 10-12)

Huffington Post/YouGov (Sept. 18-19)

Strongly support




Somewhat support




Strongly oppose


Featured Fact-check



Somewhat oppose








Vanden Heuvel also said that the Islamic State’s beheading of two American journalists was the tipping point for public support of airstrikes. The videos contained a "barbarism and a gruesomeness" that "moved" Americans to back Obama on this, she said.

However, polls don’t exactly bear that out.

A Washington Post/ABC poll from Aug. 13-17, found majority support, 54 percent, for airstrikes against the Islamic State. That poll was conducted before Aug. 19, when the Islamic State released footage of a Sunni insurgent beheading journalist James Foley.

A Pew Research Center/USA Today poll released Aug. 18 -- also before the videos were released -- showed 54 percent of Americans supported airstrikes while just 34 percent opposed.

Even earlier in the summer, the country was split on whether to launch airstrikes. A Washington Post/ABC poll from June 22 found 45 percent of respondents backed airstrikes and 46 percent opposed them. So it’s not as though the pro-airstrike crowd was weak months before the beheadings, either.

While support for airstrikes jumped in the aftermath of the gruesome videos, it was already building and above 50 percent before news outlets learned two journalists were beheaded.

Ground troops

Obama has vowed not to get American troops directly involved in combat in Iraq and Syria.

Polls are mixed, but it does not seem that there’s a great appetite for "boots on the ground," as some may say.

The September Reuters poll allowed respondents to select multiple actions they deemed appropriate for America to take to fight the Islamic State. Choices ranged from humanitarian aid to no intervention at all. Just 9 percent of respondents favored sending troops, easily the least-chosen option.

Similarly, CNN found two-thirds of Americans opposed ground troops while about one-third supported it.

The Huffington Post/YouGov poll (the most-recent poll we found) had a far less definitive result. Asked if they would support or oppose ground troops in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State, 38 percent expressed some support while 44 percent were against it. So a plurality opposed the move, but it was much closer than other surveys.

On This Week, vanden Heuvel embellished a bit when she said support for ground troops to fight the Islamic State was "not there" and "very thin," but her general point is on target. Polls found at least a plurality opposed sending combat troops to fight the Islamic State.

Our ruling

Vanden Heuvel said Americans now "support strikes (to fight the Islamic State) but the support for ground troops is not there. The support is very thin."

In general, vanden Heuvel captures the sentiment of the American people. But she over-exaggerates the influence of videos showing beheadings of journalists on Americans' attitudes about airstrikes. There was already majority support for airstrikes before the killing of the first journalist, James Foley.

It is also a stretch to say support for ground troops is "not there" or "very thin." It is a minority opinion, but at least two polls show one-third of Americans support the idea.

On balance, we rate her claim Half True.

Our Sources

ABC’s This Week transcript, Sept. 21, 2014

Email interview with Katrina vanden Heuvel, Sept. 21, 2014

Reuters, "Americans back air strikes on Islamic State, wary of long haul: poll," Sept. 13, 2014

Ipsos, Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters, Sept. 12, 2014

Washington Post, "Wide support for striking ISIS, but weak approval for Obama," Sept. 9, 2014

Washington Post, "What explains the publics support for airstrikes agaisnt ISIS? The Terrorism nerve," Sept. 9, 2014

Washington Post, Obama and Iraq - Post-ABC poll, Aug. 13-17, 2014

YouGov, Poll Results: Iraq & Syria, Sept. 19, 2014

CNN, "CNN poll finds majority of Americans alarmed by ISIS," Sept. 8, 2014

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "Support for U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq; Concern About Getting Too Involved," Aug. 18, 2014, CBS News/New York Times Poll, Sept. 12-15, 2014

NPR, "U.S. Authenticates Video Of Militants Beheading American Journalist," Aug. 20, 2014

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Katrina vanden Heuvel: Americans support airstrikes against ISIS but not ground troops

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