WASHINGTON – The American public doesn’t have much appetite for a military strike in Syria.
People don’t fully understand how America has a national interest. They’re not well-versed on who’s fighting whom. And they wonder why this country is not spending precious federal dollars on boosting the domestic economy rather than engaging in faraway conflicts.
And, Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said, “they’re a little bit burned by mismanaged expectations” of American missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Support for military action would jump, according to polls, if it was proven the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its own people. But even that boost wouldn’t fully erase the deep skepticism.
“No question, people would have a highly negative reaction to the use of chemical weapons. But there is just limited support for involvement in the Middle East and in Syria,” said Carroll Doherty, an analyst at the Pew Research Center.
An NBC News poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday found half of Americans do not support military action in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. By 41 percent to 27 percent, they do not think the use of military force will improve the situation for Syrian civilians.
Members of Congress hear the same kinds of doubts, one reason they’re clamoring for President Barack Obama to lay out his case clearly before embarking on any military mission. The public agrees: Nearly four in five want Obama to get congressional approval before acting.
In a rare display of bipartisan agreement, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, echoed the same concerns as those of Republican House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio.
“There needs to be more consultation with all members of Congress and additional transparency into the decision-making process and timing,” she said, “and that the case needs to be made to the American people.”
Even strong supporters of military action agreed.
“In this case, the person who’s ultimately responsible is the president,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “He has to explain to the American people what our national interests are; you know, why we would consider doing something like this. It cannot be a press release.”
Traditionally, Americans rally around a president as he orders military action. But if the underlying backing was not there previously, that support evaporates quickly if the mission goes awry. Bush got support in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, arguing that military action was an important way of preventing more such attacks.
Today, the American self-interest is less clear.
Foremost among public concerns is war weariness. An Aug. 19-23 Ipsos-Reuters poll found 60 percent said the United States should not intervene in the Syrian conflict.
To pollster Clark, the message is clear.
“There’s a lot of confusion, and this is something people don’t know a great deal about,” she said. “To many, it seems like another Middle East quagmire.”