James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Do Americans Want Obama to Do More on Libya?

by James M. Lindsay
March 14, 2011

Protesters sits atop a wall during anti-Qaddafi demonstrations on March 14, 2011.

Protesters sits atop a wall during anti-Qaddafi demonstrations on March 14, 2011. (Suhaib Salem/courtesy Reuters)

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which under the leadership of Andrew Kohut does some of the best public opinion polling around, is just in from the field with a new survey that provides some insight on whether Americans want President Obama to do more on Libya. The answer is “No.”

Pew provides a nice write up of the survey findings, so I will just hit the highlights. On the critical question of whether the United States has a responsibility to act in Libya, more than six out of ten Americans say no. The partisan differences are small, with majorities of Independents (67 percent), Republicans (65 percent), and Democrats (57 percent) all saying that the United States does not have responsibility.

Proposals to impose tougher sanctions on Libya draw the support of a bare majority (51 percent). The call for a no-fly zone, which former State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter backed in today’s New York Times and Gen. Wesley Clark knocked in yesterday’s Washington Post, split the public, with 45 percent against and 44 percent for.

The latter numbers probably overstate public support for a no-fly zone and suggest that many Americans do not understand what it would entail. When asked if the United States should bomb Libyan air defenses, which would almost certainly happen if a no-fly zone were declared, 77 percent of those surveyed said no.

There looks to be bipartisan agreement that sending U.S. troops into Libya is a bad idea. Only 13 percent favored this option.

So whatever the merits or demerits of the administration’s response to the Libyan crisis, it looks to be in keeping with where the public is.

How do you read the Pew data?

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Externality

    There is no support for more wars. The government wants to cut Social Security and Medicare, cut assistance to the poor, and cut science, education, and technology funding. The American people recognize, correctly, that we cannot afford any more wars without making even deeper cuts at home.

    Once the no-fly zone over Libya begins, we will, inevitably, see escalating air strikes and calls for ground troops to “preserve US and NATO credibility” and prevent human rights abuses. That, in turn, will lead to the Colin Powell’s “pottery barn rule” being invoked to require nation-building.

    The American people are not paranoid: President Clinton assured the American people that a UN-backed no-fly zone over the former Yugoslavia would be a brief intervention. What happened? Escalating US air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions, skirmishes with Serbia proper, and the 1999 Kosovo War. When it became clear that neither the American people, the Congress, nor the UN would support the Kosovo war, President Clinton decided to wage the war through NATO. Preserving Western credibility and stopping human rights abuses, he claimed, took precedence over public, Congressional, and UN objections. After the war, the US built the enormous and permanent Camp Bondsteel. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Bondsteel Twelve years later, Bosnia and Kosovo still require outside intervention to prevent ethnic and sectarian violence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Representative_for_Bosnia_and_Herzegovina

    Any intervention may start with a no fly zone, but like Yugoslavia and Iraq, it will not end there. Intervention in Libya is a cost the American people cannot bear.

  • Posted by Allyson

    I would really have liked to see a question directly related to support for a NFZ if used to protect civilians. Intervening with the goal of supporting one side of an armed conflict is much different than taking action to prevent innocent men, women and children from being killed by the Libyan air force.

    As a point of information, a recent CNN poll posed the following question, which fleshes out a bit more of what would be required by a NFZ: “Some people have suggested establishing a ‘no-fly’ zone in Libya which would be an area patrolled by military planes from the U.S. and other countries to prevent Gadhafi from using his air force. No U.S. ground troops would be involved but U.S. airplanes or missiles might be used to shoot down Libyan airplanes or attack ground bases used by the Libyan air force. Would you favor or oppose the U.S. and other countries attempting to establish a ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya?” 56% of the respondents were in favor.

  • Posted by Florencio De la Cruz

    Biased poll question – the word “responsibility” is the culprit. Most do not think that the US has a responsibility, but that does not mean that the US shouldn’t for other reasons, like say, long-term strategic interests in the region. The PEW poll is silly.

  • Posted by Anthony Wiley

    Why not give the rebels the $32 billion frozen from Quaddalfi’s accounts? They could use that to purchase better weapons. Better yet, America could just sell them the weapons. We are the biggest weapon manufacturing country, after all. That would be a win-win. They get the means to fight back and win their revolution, we get $32 billion injected into our economy.

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