The American People Want To Stay Out Of Syria
A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds that a majority of Americans oppose the idea of the United States becoming more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war:
Sixty-two percent of Americans continue to say the United States does not have a responsibility to intervene in the fighting in Syria, while 24 percent of Americans think the United States does have a responsibility to do something about the fighting between government forces and anti-government groups there – a four point increase since last month.
Most Democrats, Republicans, and independents agree that the U.S. does not have a responsibility to get involved in the conflict in Syria.
Even as news of the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government was announced by the Obama Administration, fewer Americans are paying attention to news about Syria than were doing so last month. In March, slightly more than half of all Americans were following news about Syria at least somewhat closely. Now, four in 10 say they are doing so, including just 10 percent who are following it very closely.
Still, those following the news about Syria very closely are far more likely to think the U.S. has a responsibility to get involved there. Nearly half (47 percent) of that group thinks the U.S. has a responsibility to get involved there — though about as many do not (48 percent).
The New York Times write up of the poll also notes that the number of people who say that they are closely following events in Syria has fallen 15% since the last time the question was asked in March, which indicates that interest in the war even among people inclined to support U.S. intervention is falling. This poll continues a pattern that we’ve seen in the years since the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars wherein the American people have become far more wary of military action in foreign countries. We saw some of that some doubt raised during the President’s decision to join a multi-national coalition that intervened in the Libyan civil war in 2011. At the same time, though, I find myself agreeing with Walter Russell Mead, who faulted the Times for calling this poll evidence of an “isolationist streak” among the public:
Not wanting to send troops into a mess like Syria can hardly be considered a “isolationist streak.” The same goes for thinking that now is not the time for a war with North Korea. Nobody atVia Meadia is pushing to send troops to Syria or invade the DPRK. For that matter, we would rather strike a deal with Iran than send it airstrikes. But none of those positions in any way represents a “streak.”
Growing disinterest in Syria is less a reflection of isolationism than it is a perception that the conflict has turned into a stalemate. Certainly recent news reports have been highlighting the reality that this isn’t really a struggle between dictator-loving goons and noble freedom fighters. A conflict between two groups of thugs in a far-off land isn’t nearly as engaging. One suspects that interest in Egypt has also died down since the illusory hopes of the “Arab Spring” began to fade.
Mead is largely correct here, I think, but I doubt it’s the case that the state of the war is the reason the American people are reluctant to intervene in Syria. To put it bluntly, the last decade we’ve intervened in three Muslim countries. Two of them, Iraq and Afghanistan, turned out to largely be utter disaster while the third, Libya, has left behind a country that is barely stable and contains wide swaths of territory controlled by militants. We’re also in the middle of a confrontation with the Iranians over their nuclear program. It’s quite understandable that the public would be reluctant to back intervention in yet another Middle Eastern nation with the prospect that we’ll once again responsible for the political future of a nation that we don’t understand which is rife with sectarian and ethnic strife that is likely to boil over as soon as the authoritarian government in Damascus collapses. This doesn’t make the American people isolationist, it makes them wise. Perhaps our political leadership could use a little bit of that wisdom.