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Americans have long been wary of military action in North Korea

As tensions continue between the U.S. and North Korea, President Trump faces an American public that continues to be reluctant to use military force against North Korea.  

Fifty-seven percent of Americans don't want Mr. Trump to threaten North Korea.  Most Americans think that war with North Korea is avoidable, and that the threat posed by the North can be contained.

Meanwhile, confidence in the president's handling of North Korea has dropped slightly from the summer.  More than half say they don't have much or any confidence, and the percentage that now say they have no confidence in the president on this matter has risen six points from July.

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Still, reluctance to engage with North Korea militarily is not new, and goes back long before Mr. Trump took office.  CBS News polls conducted from 2003-2017 indicate that most Americans have long been wary of a military response.

Nicholas Kristof explains why he's "more alarmed than ever" about war with North Korea

As far as March 2003 and the eve of the Iraq War, most Americans professed a belief that the North Korean nuclear threat was real, but could be solved with diplomacy.  Back then, just 14 percent of Americans said that North Korea posed a threat that required immediate military action.  Instead, Americans were far more preoccupied with the threat posed by Iraq, which the U.S. would invade later that month.

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By 2006 – with the U.S. military now heavily committed in a conflict in Iraq, which most Americans now felt things were going badly – little had changed in terms of the public's perception of what the U.S. should do about North Korea. Instead, Americans continued to be more concerned about threats from the Middle East.  In the fall of 2006, more than twice as many Americans viewed Iran's weapons program as a threat that required an immediate military response than that of North Korea.

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Today, Americans are still skeptical, though the belief that military action against North Korea is necessary has grown.   In September, a third of Americans said that North Korea's development of weapons was a threat that required immediate military action – an increase from earlier measures. Still, nearly twice as many said it could be contained.

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In fact, 53 percent of Americans voiced concern that the U.S. will go to war too quickly and start an unnecessary war, while 36 percent were more concerned that the U.S. would not act quickly enough to prevent an attack by North Korea, according to a CBS News poll from Sept. 2017.

Yet there are conditions under which Americans would back military action.  Although most Americans think North Korea is a threat that can be contained, 58 percent would approve of taking military action against the country if diplomatic efforts were to fail, while 34 percent would disapprove, according to a CBS News poll from Aug. 14-16, 2017.

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