A man sits in front of houses destroyed during a Syrian Air Force air strike in Azaz, Syria on August 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, backs President Obama’s request for authorization to intervene militarily in Syria, as does House Democratic Minority Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
The president has done a pretty good job of selling his plan to congressional leaders.
He has not, however, sold it to the American people.
Thus, when members of Congress decide which side they’re on in the Syrian intervention votes that are expected to take place next week, they will have to consider whether they want to respond to pro-war pressure from inside-the-Beltway—as so many did when they authorized action against Iraq—or to the anti-war sentiments of their constituents.
Reflecting on the proposed intervention, Congressman Alan Grayson, D-Florida, allowed as how “nobody wants this except the military-industrial complex.”
The level of opposition might not be quite so overwhelming.
But it is strikingly high.
And, even as the president makes his case, skepticism about intervention appears to be growing.
A Pew Research survey released Tuesday found support for air strikes had collapsed from 45 percent to 29 percent, while opposition had spiked. “The public has long been skeptical of U.S. involvement in Syria, but an April survey found more support than opposition to the idea of a US-led military response if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed,” Pew reported Tuesday. “The new survey finds both broad concern over the possible consequences of military action in Syria and little optimism it will be effective.”
The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, released after the president announced he would seek congressional authorization for an attack on Syria, and after several days of administration lobbying for that attack, found that voters are overwhelmingly opposed to intervention.
“The United States says it has determined that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the civil war there,” the Post/ABC poll asked. “Given this, do you support or oppose the United States launching missile strikes against the Syrian government?”
* Sixty percent of registered voters (59 percent of all respondents) express opposition. Just 36 percent support intervention.
* Self-identified Democrats are opposed 54-42—a 12 point gap.
* Republicans are opposed 55-43—a similar 12 point gap.
* The fiercest opposition is among independents, who disapprove of intervention by a 66-30 margin. That figure suggests that members of Congress who represent swing districts might actually be more vulnerable if they vote to authorize the attack.
In addition to being broad-based, the opposition sentiment runs deep. Even if US allies such as Britain and France join in, a 51-46 majority is still opposed to missile strikes.
The idea of going further and trying to topple the Syrian regime appears to be a political non-starter. Seventy percent of those surveyed oppose supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, while just 30 percent support the proposal that has been floated by President Obama and Republican hawks such as Arizona Senator John McCain.
What is especially notable about the polling data is the intensity of opposition to any sort of intervention—including missile strikes targeted at suspected chemical weapons sites—among groups that lean Democratic at election time.
* Sixty-five percent of women surveyed for The Post/ABC poll oppose missile strikes, while just 30 percent favor them. (The Pew survey found an even lower level of support among women: just 19 percent)
* Among Americans under age 40 who were surveyed for the Post/ABC poll, 65 percent are opposed.
* Among Hispanics, 63 percent are opposed.
* Among African-Americans, 56 percent are opposed.
On the question of arming the rebels, opposition numbers skyrocket.
* Seventy-six percent of women surveyed for the Post/ABC poll are opposed.
* Seventy-four percent of those under age 40 are opposed.
* Seventy-three percent of African-Americans are opposed.
Regionally, the Democratic-leaning states of the Midwest and the Northeast are more opposed than the Republican-leaning states of the South.
It is true that foreign policy is not always made on the basis of polling data. It is true that patterns of war weariness and concern about how to address the use of chemical weapons makes the current circumstance volatile. And it is true that poll numbers can change. But it is worth noting that discomfort with launching air strikes—let alone any other intervention—is running strong among voters who have followed the story closely and among voters who have only recently begun to engage with it. Pew reports that “opposition to the idea is prevalent regardless of people’s level of interest—nearly half oppose airstrikes among the most and least attentive segments of the public.”
Or, as the Washington Post analysis puts it: “there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey.”