Courtesy Reuters

How Many Casualties Will Americans Tolerate?



In "The Iraq Syndrome" (November/December 2005), John Mueller argues that public support for the American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq can be explained with "a simple association: as casualties mount, support decreases." He goes on to say that support for the Iraq war has dropped so fast that it makes sense to talk about an "Iraq syndrome," a casualty-induced aversion to the future use of force by the United States.

Mueller's landmark contributions to the study of public opinion and war have rightly earned him much respect and inspired a large portion of the scholarly agenda taken up by me and my research partner, Peter Feaver. In this essay, however, he is only partially correct. The public is, as he notes, sensitive to casualties: casualties are the cost of war, and the public would prefer the same outcome (victory) at

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