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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Americans Oppose Intervention in Syria

by James M. Lindsay
December 14, 2012

A damaged area of Syria is pictured after a car bomb near Damascus on December 13 (SANA/Courtesy Reuters). A damaged area of Syria is pictured after a car bomb near Damascus on December 13 (SANA/Courtesy Reuters).


The Pew Research Center is out with a new poll today on U.S. public attitudes toward Syria. The results are unambiguous: Americans want nothing to do with the civil war that has now killed almost 40,000 Syrians. More than six-in-ten respondents (63 percent) say that the United States does not have a responsibility to do something to end the fighting in Syria. A slightly higher number (65 percent) opposes even arming rebel groups in Syria.

Unlike most other issues in American politics, opinions about Syria don’t break down along party lines. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents oppose both direct U.S. intervention and arming rebel groups.

Source: Pew Research Center

The poll’s findings, which are nearly identical to what Pew found when it asked the same questions last March, indicate that President Obama isn’t likely to pay a political price at home for not doing more on Syria. That doesn’t mean, however, that he will necessarily pay a significant political price if he changes his current course and orders direct or indirect U.S. military action against the Assad regime.  Six-in-ten Americans opposed intervening in Libya’s civil war back in March 2011. Obama ignored that public sentiment, but Operation Odyssey Dawn never became an issue in his march to reelection.

The question of the political consequences of a U.S. military action in Syria could become more than an academic one given signs that the Assad government has been preparing to use chemical weapons to maintain its hold on power. I’ll have more on that challenge in a post on Monday.

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  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    Thank you, Mr. Lindsay, for highlighting the details of this poll in your column. Leaders are always scraping around for reasons to justify a military intervention. It is not so much an appeal to popular support as it is an attempt to provide momentary cover for a particular action. The smokescreen of RTP for the Libyan intervention is a good example. The charge of potential chemical weapons use may also fall into this category.

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