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

    Looking at videos and pictures, US and other countries should act together. I cannot see innocent kids and womens dying every day ...Syrian leaders should get punished.

    August 29, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  2. GIJOE

    Obama's plan will be as ineffectual as his entire history in office is. Syria's airforce , command and control, and anti AA defenses should be completely destroyed paving the way for an even larger aerial assault on Iran's nuke sites. Iran is the US real security threat not a civil war in Syria. let the arabs kill each other off...what do they matter...Inhumanity deserves, well, inhumanity.

    August 29, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  3. Revolution

    I guess the next president will have to pay for obamas war lol!!!

    August 29, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  4. Doug Oliver

    No doubt the brain surgeons at the CIA and NSA gave their astute assessment of WMD so that our President could "intelligently" embark. Where have I heard that before? If this was so important... the locals would be worried. Don't see Turkey, Jordan, Greece, Egypt, or anyone else too worried about this. What – 12 years in Afghanistan is not enough?

    August 29, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  5. Lori

    The last thing we need is to get into another military conflict. We are not the watchdog for the world and then they hate us that much more.....We taxpayers do not need this additional burden...We have too many problems here on our own streets in America that need to be resolved "yesterday". .Why aren't the Democrats and College students out there picketing against military conflict like they did when Bush made his move???....Get real!!!

    August 29, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  6. glp

    So much informaton but not enough proof. Ok – they used chemical weapons. Do you actually thknk having the US strike back is going to make one bit of differnce to the way of life over there? It is a crying shame that this is happening to them over there but geeeze, why do WE have to keep spilling our blood over it?????

    August 29, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  7. Justin

    Here we go. Another false flag invasion reminiscent of Iraq. We help to oust Egypt's leader, then Libya's & Iraq & we're in Afganistan. And now we're about to enter Syria under what's most likely a CIA backed chem attack which sole purpose was to enrage the masses so we can "falsely" enter into Syria. You can draw a line straight thru the country's we've done this to. Bigger question is why or what's so important in or under that area?.. It's not oil.

    August 29, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    "After the Vietnam war, Americans were much less likely to support the use of U.S. force"

    Yet ironically those same kids from the Vietnam Era are now grown up and control all business, military, and politics. Very ironic that the vietnam generation is pretty much the same generation of leaders that have got America into more military conflicts, into deeper debt, taken away more freedoms, destroyed our culture, and left the nation in shambles more than any generation ever before it.

    How can the vietnam generation of kids continually crap on the millenials when the millenials have been kept totally out of any significant power and the vietnam generation, both GOP and Dem, have overly-ensured that our future is going to be a war torn, freedomless, and financially broken mess beyond any possible repair?

    August 29, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  9. Eduardo

    It is a shame but a shame to Syria and its leaders. But we as a country have a bigger war to engage. Our debt and our economy. We need to look out for ourselves first. We owe it to ourselves.

    August 29, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  10. Look it up

    Obama , UK etc have not informed the public that the REBELS including Al Qaeda hold Base111 in Aleppo................the chemical weapons base!!!!
    Who SAYS he isn't trying to get rid of Assad? Another lie from the expert!

    August 29, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  11. Mike Hunt

    0bama's message to the world has already been sent: the message is that he has absolutely no clue what he's doing.

    August 29, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  12. sakulin

    If I remember correctly our "intelligence" reported that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and Colin Powell made a fool of himself at the UN with some ridiculous pictures that could have been taken anywhere. This justified the invasion and subsequent destruction of Iraq, not to mention the death of hundreds of thousands innocent civilians by our war machine. Here we go again with our insatiable blood lust. War is a racket that supplies the industrial complex and bankers with huge profits while young, gullible Americans provide the canon fodder. The US wants a regime change in Syria so it creates the "intelligence" to justify yet another invasion. Obama is as big a war criminal as Bush.

    August 29, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  13. david

    isreal sent some intel on a phone call haha go figure

    August 29, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  14. Rembrant

    Dear Mr. Obama,
    This is simple: Stay out of Syria. The US is not the global policeman. We have our own problems to be dealt with right here. Let the UK, Germany, Saudis, whoever deal with this.

    Thank you,
    American Citizen

    August 29, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  15. Sean McGee

    I firmly believe that we must do something to stop Syria from using chemical weapons. I hope that Obama does the right thing and does something to stop Syria from killing more people in that region. Even though , I believe that war is wrong, I feel that we must do something very soon to end these terrible humanitarian massacres in Syria. If I was the president I would do something to end this conflict altogether. As I very much do not like violence, I hope Obama makes a decision to stop Syria for good. If he doesn't do this, I will vote for a Republican such as John Mccain. I know that this may sound crazy,but it is true that John Mccain is doing a better job making decisions than even our own president. I hope the President steps up and makes a decision quickly to end these horrific images of men, women, children getting killed in that region.

    August 29, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  16. don in albuquerque

    Gotta love all these people posting on how we have got to do something to Syria. You idiots are gonna love WWIII.

    August 29, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  17. nation of sheep

    One simple question: WHAT CHEMICAL WEAPON THE SYRIANS USED??? What's the big mystery??? The US must have some idea since the US has the world's largest stockpile of chemical AND biological weapons. The reason why the US won't say is because the US has probably used THE SAME chemical weapons in the past.

    August 29, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  18. Inga

    My opinion – we should not be there. It is not our war. That said, very sorry for the people suffering in Syria.

    August 29, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  19. Maura

    If Assad is using chemical weapons against his own people, of course we must intervene. It is the morally right thing to do. Hopefully, the international community will contribute as well.
    The only way you stop a bully is to stand up against him, especially for those who are too weak to fight for themselves.

    August 29, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  20. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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
    -------------------------------------------------
    And I guess as the ONLY country to have developed AND used a nuclear weapon on another country we should know that better than anybody.
    May I humbly submit that one of the reasons some hate us around the world is because of our hypocrisy, because of our sense of "we did it but you can't".
    Not saying they are right....not saying that we'e right either though.

    August 29, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  21. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    How is Syria killing it's people with chemical weapons impacting us?
    Dead is dead, whether via entrenched starvation and genocide as IS and has been the case in Sudan for nearly DECADES. But there's nothing there for US but dust and dirt. Not worth the trip or the intervention.
    So what does Syria killing it's own people with chemical weapons have to do with us?
    What am I missing?
    I get the whole atrocity, barbaric,biological air-travel to other innocent Syrians thing. I also get that we cannot in good conscience try to act like the world's policeman when our s hit is kinda stinky, just not as stinky as their stuff.
    The countries neighboring Syria are not as up in arms, even though maybe they should be what with the refugees crowding their own citzenry.
    So why are we tripping?
    There's always something in it for us...whether we want to admit it or not.
    Send help BUT NOT OUR MEN IN UNIFORM.
    Think about what's in it for THEM for a change.

    August 29, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  22. Barbara McBride

    After the devastation we showered the people of Iraq with depleted uranium bombs, who are we to punish Syrians for
    using chemical weapons on their citizens? Aren't we the country who has in the past allowed Monsanto to
    routinely discharge toxic waste into a west Anniston creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills? There must be another way of helping the citizens in Syria besides exploding missiles there. Syria is about the
    same size as Oklahoma. Some people take offense at the liberty we take with punishing their country. There's got to
    another way that doesn't involve the military industrial complex.

    August 29, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  23. Bert in Georgia

    Get involved in Syria, you have got to be kidding. Syria poses no threat to the United States, we have no interest there. We have no business getting involved. The Russians and Chinese are correct, we can not dictate what type government everyone else has.

    August 29, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  24. Data Driven

    @Dominican Mama,

    EXCELLENT point.

    August 29, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  25. francisco

    terrific, lets be al queda's air force

    when our enemies are fighting each other, why would we get involved?

    August 29, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
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