As President Barack Obama prepares to make a case on national television tonight for a U.S. military strike against Syria — and as the Russians and French promote an alternative aimed at corralling Syria’s chemical weapons — yet another opinion poll explains the reasoning for American public opposition to an attack.
Two-thirds of those surveyed by the New York Times and CBS News are very concerned that a U.S. military action in Syria will become a long and costly involvement, despite the White House’s assurances of a “limited” and “proportional” action and a Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution limiting it to 90 days and forbidding “boots on the ground.” Nearly two-thirds say such an action will lead to widespread regional war and most think it will increase the threat of terrorism against the United States. Only 14 percent say the president has explained what the U.S. goals in Syria would be.
While six in ten oppose airstrikes, even more of those surveyed (74 percent) oppose the U.S. providing arms to anti-government forces in Syria, and 86 percent oppose sending U.S. ground troops into Syria, which the administration has promised will not happen.
The Obama administration apparently has made its case, in the public arena, that the government of Bashar al-Assad deployed chemical weapons killing more than 1,400 people, including 400 children, outside Damascus on Aug. 21. A narrow majority of Americans, 52 percent, perceive the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a security threat to the United States, while 45 percent do not.
Yet the president apparently has not made the case for the moral imperative for the U.S. to enforce what he has termed an unforgivable breach of international “norms” and violation of global treaties. Three in four of those surveyed by the Times and CBS say the Syrian government probably used chemical weapons. Still, 65 percent say they don’t think the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about that. Americans generally do not support a lead role for the U.S. in solving international conflicts. with just 34 percent of Republicans surveyed, and 41 percent of Democrats, saying the nation should take the lead role.
Most surveyed oppose an air strike — 61 percent. Most give Obama poor marks for his handling of the issue — 56 percent. The president’s overall job approval in this poll is divided, at 46-46 percent approving and disapproving.
And an overwhelming majority of those surveyed say Obama should not act on his own if Congress does not authorize military action. In one of six interviews that the president gave with broadcast television and cable news networks on the eve of his 9 pm address tonight, Obama told NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie that he has not made up his mind about whether he would do that. He also said in this and other interviews that the proposition of Syria yielding control of its chemical weapons stockpile to international inspectors would “absolutely” put on hold any strike — while remaining “skeptical” that this will happen.
The Times-CBS survey of 1,011 adults taken Sept. 6-8, conducted by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pennsylvania, carries a possible margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.