Chemical weapons a game-changer on U.S. public opinion on Syria
August 29th, 2013
10:43 AM ET
12 months ago

Chemical weapons a game-changer on U.S. public opinion on Syria

Washington (CNN) - As President Barack Obama weighs launching a military strike against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, American public opinion over whether the U.S. should get involved appears conflicted.

The most recent national polling over the past few months suggests that most Americans, weary after more than a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, don't favor getting its military involved in the bloody fighting in Syria. But some surveys also indicate that the public feels that Washington would be justified in using military action against Damascus if there was proof the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against their own people.

Sixty-one percent of those questioned in a Quinnipiac survey conducted in late June and early July said that it was not in the national interest for the U.S. to be involved in the war in Syria. And nearly six in 10 said they opposed the U.S. sending military arms or supplies to the rebel forces fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Those findings were consistent with earlier surveys from Gallup, Pew Research Center, and CBS News/New York Times that were conducted in June.

"In past foreign crises, polls have shown that support for U.S. action changes depending on three things: whether ground troops might become involved, whether the U.S. is acting alone or as part of an international coalition, and whether there is a specific reason to use U.S. force. The reason may be forward-looking or in retaliation for something that already happened, but the public doesn't like writing blank checks," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

But factor in chemical weapons, and public opinion shifts.

In May, a CNN/ORC Poll asked, "If the United States were able to present evidence that convinced you that the Syrian government has chemical weapons and has used them to kill civilians in that country, do you think the U.S. would or would not be justified in using military action against the Syrian government?"

Two thirds of those questioned answered yes, with three in 10 saying no.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll from last December had similar results, with more than six in 10 supporting military action Syria if it used chemical weapons against its people.

The United States has concluded Syria carried out chemical weapons attacks against its people, Obama said Wednesday, a claim that comes amid a looming diplomatic showdown over whether to strike against al-Assad's government.

"We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks. We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out," Obama told "PBS NewsHour."

"If, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about – but if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term," the president added.

One limited military option is cruise missile attacks against Syrian government and military targets.

According to the Quinnipiac poll, Americans by a 49%-38% plurality said the U.S. should use weapons that don't risk the lives of American forces, such as cruise missiles or drones, to attack Syrian government targets.

"After the Vietnam war, Americans were much less likely to support the use of U.S. force, a phenomenon often referred to as the Vietnam syndrome," Holland added. "Will Americans suffer from an Iraq syndrome in future conflicts? We may get an answer to that question in the next few weeks."


Filed under: Polls • Syria
soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    It's a hard pill to swallow either way you look at it. I for one don't want chemical weapons falling into the hands of our enemy(Al Queda) then being used on US! At the same time the Syrian regime shouldn't be gassing their people.

    August 29, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  2. Rudy NYC

    "One limited military option is cruise missile attacks against Syrian government and military targets."
    -----------------
    Nice picture. Why not tell the whole story? While the US has moved another aircraft carrier andi its' support craft into the Mediterranean, so have the Russians moved two more warships into the area. I keep warning you folks about the Russians, but no one seems to be giving it a second thought. I think Putin is a conservative nationalist, and a war monger, so watch out.

    August 29, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  3. Borderless

    Nope. We don't want to get involved in another war that we can't afford to help people that will hate us and try to kill us when the dust settles. Not a game changer at all. Quit trying to justify Barack W. Obama's hawkish actions.

    August 29, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  4. Data Driven

    Here's a philosophical donut to go with your morning coffee: you know who doesn't care HOW they died? Dead people.

    Chemical weapons are expressly outlawed by the Geneva Conventions ... but so is the slaughter of people by their own government by any means, such as bullets and other "conventional" weapons.

    weapons are appalling, but, in this case, they're also starting to look like a justification for something that's already been decided.

    Cuidado.

    August 29, 2013 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  5. Rick McDaniel

    Killing is no different, with guns, than chemicals. It is still killing. the result is the same.

    August 29, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  6. Thomas

    So we are going to fight another war and put the bill on our grandchildren's back. Why not call congress back and get the financing of Obama's war approved.

    August 29, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  7. MaryM

    Is this going to be a war like Iraq? or is this a U.S. military strike on Syria's military machines and missiles

    August 29, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  8. Dixie

    @ Data Driven You're so right. Dead people are just that DEAD. A bullet is just as wrong. It shouldn't matter but gas seems to be a horrible way to go. There needs to be more help for these people to get there lives and country back and not only the dead. It should not have gotten to this point.

    August 29, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  9. ge

    and what is americans CEO,S best friend communist china going to do.is this worth WW3 no money in that

    August 29, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  10. SeanZ

    Obama is looking dumb right now.... like he doesnt know what to do.... lets declare we are going to do somethings, days before we do.

    August 29, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  11. Gurgyl

    At this juncture I DO NOT GIVE DARN HOOT EVEN IF THEY HAVE CHEMICAL WEAPONS. ENOUGH,

    August 29, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  12. sonny chapman

    Rudy, you answered your own question:Aircraft Carrier. The Russians won't do squat. The Aircraft Carrier checks their move. They'll holler about us being warmongers & (rightfully) raise the Iraq fiasco, but they won't shed blood or valuable hardware defending the indefensible. Assad crossed the line w/everybody on this one. With Iran on the horizon, we've got to flex our muscle.

    August 29, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  13. Fair is Fair

    @ Data Driven –

    "weapons are appalling, but, in this case, they're also starting to look like a justification for something that's already been decided."
    ---------
    To me, it looks like a perverse game of chicken between Syria's proxy and those who that proxy label "the great satan". The problem of course is that there's going to be a lot of losers.

    August 29, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  14. John

    So because the delivery of chemical weapons was via a rocket, that makes it the Asaad regime? The CIA and the American government has never supplied rebel forces with arms such as this? Does Edward Snowden have documents that may prove otherwise? Is this all just a cover to get involved in a conflict with the Russians to protect this lying administrations criminal acts? You better have more proof than "because the weapons was delivered via a rocket" Al-Qaeda has rockets. Because it was delivered via a rocket, means nothing.

    August 29, 2013 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  15. Larry in Houston

    why should this be a "game changer" ? I say let the Muslim Countries handle their own problems. That's what they do, right ? They just love to dress in pajamas/ blow theirselves up, and take others along with them, right ? This all goes back to the "W" regime, thinking that they can change a 3rd world country, that is 150 years behind us. There already are millions of people that have moved out of Syria, into neighboring countries, such as Jordan / Egypt /Lebanon / & etc, because of the Assad regime, and Ii guess the smart ones have left, as soon as Assad started his assault of his own people. But, for some odd reason or another, the ones who keep "thinking" or "hoping" or "praying" that Assad will end his terror on his own people (the people who still live in Syria) are or must be dreaming in some type of fantasy land. I guess they must think after a few years of terrorizing them, everything is going to be ok, and life will be better, for some reason. Truth is : The Whole Population of Syria Should Have Left, (To Neighboring Countries) as soon as they heard & seen (2 years ago) that Assad is decimating his own people.

    August 29, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  16. Silence DoGood

    After killing people in Libya, bombing civilians in Pakistan, spying on everyone in secret, keeping Guantanamo, and not changing the attitude of terrorists like he promised.....
    ..... when does he have to return the Peace Prize.

    I want a peace president for once.

    August 29, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  17. Rudy NYC

    sonny chapman

    Rudy, you answered your own question:Aircraft Carrier. The Russians won't do squat. The Aircraft Carrier checks their move. They'll holler about us being warmongers & (rightfully) raise the Iraq fiasco, but they won't shed blood or valuable hardware defending the indefensible. Assad crossed the line w/everybody on this one. With Iran on the horizon, we've got to flex our muscle.
    ------------------
    Uh, one of the Russian warships was an aircraft carrier. I'll give you one guess as to why it didn't come with as large a support group as the US carrier. [drum roll] The Russians have what is arguably a naval port/base on the Syrian coast. It's the closest thing that the Russians have to warm water port. For decades, most of the navy was comprised of submarines leaving frozen ports by going underneath the ice caps.

    I think that the Russians will most likely from up between the US warships and the Syrian coast. Any shots will have to get past and go over the heads of the Russian ships, which is not a pretty pictrure. Assad isn't the biggest problem we're facing. The Russians are, but the media doesn't seem to want to talk about it.

    August 29, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  18. GonzoinHouston

    First off, Syria is no longer just a revolt against a tyrant. It has become a Muslim Viet Nam; a proxy war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Iran and Hezbollah have joined with Assad and various Sunni groups including al-Qaeda and offshoots of the Taliban have entered on behalf of the rebels. About 90% of the world's Muslims are Sunni, but the Shiites are concentrated in Iran and Iraq and are better organized. The Shiites are much more extreme in their interpretation of Islam, with the exception of the Wahabi sect of the Sunnis, which is concentrated in Saudi Arabia.

    Neither side is a friend to the US, and neither will be after the conflict is over. We may launch strikes against Assad today over chemical weapons, but we may see the other side use them tomorrow. The best the West can do is keep this thing contained and discourage either side from resorting to WMD's.

    August 29, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    Dixie

    ... ... ... There needs to be more help for these people to get there lives and country back and not only the dead. It should not have gotten to this point.
    -----------------
    "It should not have gotten to this point." And just what exactly should have been done to prevent it? I'm stumped. I don't know what could have done. Arming the "rebels" would have had only one result, more weapons fire between the factions.

    August 29, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  20. Data Driven

    @Rudy,

    "the media doesn't want to seem to talk about it"

    I've noticed this as well. I think a near-World War 3 scenario is a tough sell. Strangely, the media seems convinced that overthrowing the latest crazy Mideast dictator is an easier sell; hence all the angst about "chemical weapons" ... as if Assad hasn't already crossed the line on war crimes!

    I've shifted my own position from yesterday: at first I was demanding proof of chemical use. But on reflection: why didn't we go in earlier? Presumably there's video evidence of Assad's troops killing people. Ding ding - war crimes.

    Basically, this is the most muddled foreign policy crisis that I can remember.

    August 29, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  21. BARRY HARRIS

    Stop trying to speak for the us public. Obama drew a line then backed down.

    August 29, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  22. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    It hasn't changed my opinion.
    Send them gas masks, food, medicine, humanitarian help but NOT our military.

    August 29, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  23. Seven

    US help will never be appreciated, don't give it.

    August 29, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  24. Mickey

    Isn't it about time we stay out of other countries problems and concentrate our resources on our own country. The killing won't stop until we invade with our own brothers and sisters, in harms way. For what? Oil. B.S.

    August 29, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  25. yll

    Yes, dead from a bullet or bomb is just as dead as from gas, or bacteriological warfare, or nuclear warfare. But to pretend those are equivalent is naive. What we now call WMDs–chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, clearly differ from conventional weapons. With a bullet or a bomb, you can say "I'm targeting this person" or "i'm targeting this building, and everything/everyone in it". With chemical weapons it becomes "i'm targeting this area, and then whatever area wind/water currents might take the chemical, and everything/everyone that may wander into its path over the next few hours/days". Likewise with nuclear weapons and subsequent fallouts. Tack on "and whoever it comes into contact with and who those people in turn come in contact with, etc etc" for biological. With conventional weapons you can choose to direct them at military targets (or civilian, depending on your propensity for war crimes). With WMDs, you can't.
    So while civilian deaths in Syria from conventional weapons may be considered war crimes all the same as chemical weapon use, a stance must be taken as principle against chemical weapons–the weapons themselves–above and beyond a general condemnation of the targets of weapons, be it conventional or otherwise

    August 29, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
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