Obama's Syria Plan Faces Skeptical Public (Sep 02, 2013)
Reported By NEIL KING JR , Wall Street Journal
Posted By American News Online
In asking lawmakers to approve his plan for military action against Syria, President Barack Obama will have to navigate a public mood of pessimism about the outcome of a U.S. strike and uncertainty that a military response is in the country's own interest.
Recent polls have found deepening public aversion to U.S. military actions overseas after more than a decade of American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Going back to Ronald Reagan's surprise attack on Grenada in 1983, presidents have typically had at least a slim majority of the country on their side, with larger offensives, such as the 1990 Gulf War and the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, garnering significant public support.
In the case of Syria, public support for U.S. action appears especially weak. An NBC News poll last week found that just 42% of Americans backed the use of military force against the Syrian government over its alleged use of chemical weapons. That number rose to 50% if the action was limited to cruise-missile strikes from U.S. naval ships.
"There are real concerns about the efficacy of action and deep fears of U.S. entanglement in Syria," said James Lindsay, a foreign-policy expert and former Clinton administration official. "The public has a clear case of intervention fatigue after 12 years of engagement overseas, the longest stretch in U.S. history."
Studies of popular support for U.S. military action have found it hinges largely on three factors: perception of the stakes involved for U.S. national interests or security; the prospect for success; and the potential costs, financially or in U.S. casualties.
In his remarks Saturday, Mr. Obama reiterated that he had no intention of embroiling the country in a prolonged struggle in Syria and would not send ground troops there. But for now, the public remains unconvinced that the proposed military action in Syria meshes with the national interest or is likely to end in success.
In the NBC poll, barely a fifth of Americans said military action in Syria would be in the U.S. national interest, and just 27% thought a military strike would improve the situation there.
The NBC poll suggests that Mr. Obama faces a challenge in any efforts he makes in the next week to boost public support for his policy.
It found that support for military action actually dropped, to 34%, among those who said they had digested "a lot" of information on the Syrian government's alleged chemical attacks, which the U.S. government says killed more than 1,400 civilians. That result suggests that a deeper familiarity with the facts dampened desire for a military strike.
The president is contending with bipartisan unease in Congress over his proposal to launch cruise-missile strikes against Syria. The Senate is expected to begin debate on the subject this week, with the House coming into session a week later.
Support for military action differs surprisingly little by ideology, with the NBC poll showing that 46% of Democrats back action, compared to 41% of those who call themselves Republicans or independents. Skepticism runs much higher among independents over whether a military strike would improve the situation, with just 17% saying it would, compared to 30% of Democrats and 31% of Republicans who say so.
Support for military action is strongest among those under 35 years of age and weakest among those over 65. Among seniors, just 13% think military action would improve the situation in Syria, compared to 27% of the public overall.
Women overall are particularly skeptical about military action. When specified as a cruise-missile attack from naval ships, 54% of men but just 47% of women say they would support that sort of action.
A recent Gallup report on public support for military action shows that President Bill Clinton won a bare majority of support for his invasion of Haiti in 1994 and for the sustained airstrikes against Serbia in 1999. President Reagan's surprise attack on a government compound in Tripoli, Libya, in 1986, gained the support of 71% of Americans, Gallup found.
Gallup polling found approval for the 1990 Gulf War at 80% before it began, while support for the U.S. action in Afghanistan was at 90%. Approval for the Iraq invasion in 2003 was 76%.
The U.S. and allied air strikes against Libya in 2011, by comparison, garnered just 47% support, according to Gallup.
The recent NBC poll was conducted Aug. 28-29 and surveyed 700 adults. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
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