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What Americans Really Think About Intervention in Syria

by Shmuel Rosner

April 30, 2013 | 9:12 am

A US Black Hawk, photo by Reuters

Take a look at the new PEW survey on Syria – it's quite interesting:

By a 45% to 31% margin, more Americans favor than oppose the U.S. and its allies taking military action against Syria, if it is confirmed that Syria used chemical weapons against anti-government groups.

Now note the following points:

  1. Pew doesn't provide the exact wording of the question, but they do say that the public supports action by the US "and its allies". This is important, because if the plan is to have an Iraq type action – that is, the US doing most of the fighting and the allies giving some support – that's one thing; if, on the other hand, "the US and its allies" means a Libya type action – with the US leading its allies from behind – that's another matter. So the current support for action still doesn't mean there's support for US action.
  2. Interestingly, while Republican voters are more supportive of possible action, the percentage of supportive Democrats is not very far behind and is markedly higher than the number of Democrats opposing action.
  3. The public doesn't really care. "The survey finds that just 18% followed news about the charges that Syria used chemical weapons against anti-government groups very closely". This makes all findings related to future action very shaky. If the administration decides to take action, the public will start paying attention, and then we might discover that by paying attention it becomes less keen on involvement, not more.
  4. Most importantly, the support is conditional- "if it is confirmed that the Syrians used chemical weapons". As I wrote just yesterday, the matter of chemicals is well-established on the one hand, but is also still debated (to understand why you can read this). So the real question that should be asked isn't "would you favor action if…" but rather "were you convinced by the evidence that the Syrians are using…". Note that Pew began asking their question when the public was just beginning to get the facts straight from the American government following a day of confusion.   

 

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