The Candidates and The World

Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Tracking the Issues: Little Support for Intervention in Syria

by Newsteam Staff
March 20, 2012

Syrian soldiers man a checkpoint in the Damascus suburb of Harasta February 15, 2012. (Courtesy Reuters)


Voters overwhelming oppose U.S. military involvement in Syria, according to a recent Fox News poll, but say humanitarian aid should be sent to the region.

Most of those polled oppose any involvement in the Syrian people’s rebellion against President Bashir al-Assad, including arming rebels (64 percent opposed), air strikes (68 percent opposed), and troops on the ground (78 percent opposed). The poll found 59 percent of voters think there should be a national debate and approval from Congress before U.S. intervention overseas. Meanwhile, 82 percent said they supported sending humanitarian aid.

Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution, who also advises the Romney campaign, said at a Washington meeting last week that the U.S. election is a factor in President Obama’s decisions on Syria, but he believes signs point to an eventual strike. “I think that the trajectory that they are on is that they are going to eventually intervene,” Kagan said.

In a joint press conference last week, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron discussed the two countries’ possible roles in ending the ongoing violence against Syrian civilians at the hands of Assad. “What we want is the quickest way to stop the killing that is through transition rather than revolution or civil war,” Obama said. “But if Assad continues, then civil war or revolution is the inevitable consequence. So we will work with anyone who is ready to build a stable, inclusive, and democratic Syria for all Syrians.”

Republican candidate Rick Santorum at one point said he would consider air strikes against Syria but later said he did not know enough about what is happening on the ground and that he is “not quite prepared to go there at this point in time (MSNBC).” Republican rival Mitt Romney has come out in favor of arming Syrian rebels but stopped short of advocating direct military intervention (WSJ).

Ron Paul has warned that his opponents seek to push the United States into armed conflict (WashPost) with Syria and other Middle Eastern nations. “The Republicans are going to be in trouble unless they come our way and decide they want a president who’s more for peace than for war,” Paul said. “If you keep voting for warmongers, yes, this is going to be very negative.”

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates on Democracy Promotion in the Arab World and this one on The Candidates and Defense Policy.

Suggested Other Reading

CFR president emeritus Leslie H. Gelb says foreign policy experts should be honest about consequences and risks before recommending jumping into wars with Syria and Iran.

In Foreign Policy, Aaron David Miller applauds President Obama’s “wise caution” on Syria thus far.

In a New York Times op-ed, Foreign Affairs Managing Editor Jonathan Tepperman warns of the perils of piecemeal intervention tactics.

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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