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. Larry in Houston

    Obama administration has spent money on sending all those ships / subs & etc over there....why don't they send the money to some other countries close by ? such as Jordan / Lebanon / & what not ? I mean, our government loves to send money overseas so bad, why don't they just send all the countries that surround Syria, so they can "house" all the refugees that is coming into the other countries, instead of bringing or sending warships to do absolutely nothing. Then Assad won't have very many to kill off..... if we stipulate 1 million people to each country, such as Jordan & etc, pay for it just like Obama did, when he sent bags of money to the Karzide gov't

    August 29, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  2. John

    And when we don't get involved and the violence spreads... Who will you blame?

    August 29, 2013 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  3. wyvonne Kaye

    Both sides want us and Israel dead. We should not support either.

    August 29, 2013 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  4. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Data Driven
    Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of our own history, of our own failings.
    Thanks Data.

    August 29, 2013 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  5. Sabines Feast

    Do you think U.S. action "would be justified" does not equal "Would you support" U.S. action." I may think bombing Syria has justification and continue to oppose said bombing. The survey question does not lead to the purported conclusion.

    August 29, 2013 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  6. herchato

    Iraq killed tens of thousands of their own people with chemical weapons but I don't remember anyone trying to stopping them. Let those in the middle east take care of their neighbors.

    August 29, 2013 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  7. ted tedly

    What a misleading headline. Even with all the paid-opinion poster-bots the true American opinion is clear on page after page of comments, NO MORE WARS! We will gain nothing but more debt & more mutilated servicemen & women. They don't hate us for our freedoms, they hate us because we keep bombing every nation in the middle east. I wonder if the author of this article is another dual-citizen of the only nation that would benefit from regime change in Syria?

    August 29, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  8. Jones in Indiana

    This is a sad situation! I am not a Obama fan , but, we cannot blame him for Syria! This is not a time for politics! If he does not do something he is wrong...if he does he's wrong. Wake up folks! Bush and other presidents took us to war ! I supported Bush, but, he made mistakes.
    We need to let other countries help themselves or their neighbors help. Why is it always the USA?

    August 29, 2013 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  9. No name

    People in that part of the world have been killing in the name of religion for centuries. Leave them alone to "duke it out". If the US has interests they are concerned about those interests need to be closed and workers sent home. Stay out of any future conflict in the Middleseast!

    August 29, 2013 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  10. sativa619

    Sure, we'd be 'justified' but I'm still of the mind that throwing bombs around doesn't solve jack or squat. Honestly, nothing except WWII was ever a 'just' war. All this is, is another 'let's prob up that military industrial complex' some more and gin up fake outrage. So what, we're gunna take out a dictator for al Qaeda now? We should simply work on containing the Syrian conflict to Syria and let it play out...

    August 29, 2013 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  11. Bobbb

    I highly doubt Obama has the cohones to do anything like that on his own. So we wait, even if in the guise of gathering more data.

    August 29, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  12. oldsarg

    well, since the British aren't behind us on this issue, here is my suggestion; it seems no one is behind us, its okay to gas your own people. Babies, infants, children, women, gas em all.
    We need to pull our troops from every country, bring them al home. Stop all trade with every country that doesn't like us. Stop sending financial aid to all countries that don like us. They take that aid and buy weapons to attack us with anyway. Stop buying any foreign oil. We may have to suffer for a while but we can get through it.
    Send a message to the world, stay out of the U S A. Do not attack us, we will launch an attack on your country.
    Tighten up security on all of our borders. Establish outposts every so many miles around our nation. Have air and land support on standby to assist these outposts when needed.
    Its time for us to take extreme measures to protect our own.

    August 29, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  13. Eric

    Why is the U.S. a member of the U.N. if it unilaterlly engages in war? Let the U.N. do what it was created to do. Quite frankly, the red line argument is ridiculous. The U.S. is aparantly fine when Syrians kill each other slowly, one bullet or bomb at a time, but when they do it more effectively, all of the sudden we have a huge moral problem with that?

    August 29, 2013 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  14. Len in Mendocino

    Really? I find it very hard to believe that many Americans care about these people. Let them destroy each other.

    August 29, 2013 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  15. Scott

    Obama should stay out and focus on more important matters here at home. China and Russia know what's up. They aren't stupid.

    August 29, 2013 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  16. Alex

    Assad has got to go, ever since his regime helped kill Lebanon's prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

    That all being said, Obama seems to have no idea what he is doing. We should have acted two years ago, when the rebels were a pro-democracy movement instead of being mixed radicals. Keep in mind though that "being Al Qaeda's air force" is just Syrian propaganda, but it will be hard now to separate the radicals from the pro-democracy faction.

    As a result of Obama's poor leadership, this is going to now be an extremely difficult mess to fix. This is why Hillary Clinton resigned, because of Obama's dithering over Libya.

    August 29, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  17. JR

    Once again CNN has gotten it wrong. Wolf... Wolf..... the UK has taken a moment to take a breath and so should the US. Where is the coalition, what happened to rule of international law. In disrupting Syria's capabilities, we open the door to AL Qaida establishing another terrorist nation. in destroying the capability to make chemical weapons only sends the possible mustard gas and nerve agent into the surrounding area contaminating it for longer spans of time, killing more unnecessarily . THINK! we should set up a international buffer zone like the DMZ manned by the UN and inspectors.

    August 29, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  18. Richard Rowe

    hopefully we learned a lesson from Saddam's WMDs. There must be solid, indisputable proof that it was al-Assad using chemical weapons before anyone takes military action against the Syrian govt. And then, as action is being pursued on humanitarian grounds, it must be a multinational force from a body such as the UN and not a unilateral action.

    August 29, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  19. ThymeLee

    First time I agree with Obama politics, do not get involved with Syria's civil war! U.S. involvement would probably unite Syria long enough to kill our soldiers and wipe out billions of taxpayers dollars. They'd wait for us to get out of their country and pick right back up where they left off fighting.

    I think the U.S. should let this be an example to countries that breed violence, steep their children in it, and allow it to come to power. Message from the USA- rethink you value system and when you're ready to try something new, like democracy, give us a call.

    August 29, 2013 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  20. SweetBetsy

    Please, President Obama, don't continue the Bushes' mistakes. I campaigned for a person (you) who would never lead us into more involvement in the Middle East. Don't put our military in the middle of the Shi'ites and Sunnis. A religious war can never be won, especially not by outsiders.

    August 29, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  21. Mary Anne

    Why would we even consider taking such military action against Syria. Haven't we learned our lesson in Iraq? When will we ever figure out that war is not the answer? I pray that the President comes to his senses.

    August 29, 2013 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  22. Ted

    I wonder if Syria has any natural "resources"?

    August 29, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  23. whispersd

    This is the kind of thing that you can see when you have a poll asking a leading question.

    What do you think would happen to the numbers if the question made it clear that the rebels were religious fundamentalists associated with Al Qaeda?

    August 29, 2013 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  24. joesmom

    I don't care who is at fault. This isn't our fight. No more war!

    August 29, 2013 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  25. joesmom

    I don't care who it at fault, this isn't our fight. Assad is bad, but the rebels are no better and sponsored by alQaeda. It is lose-lose. No more war!

    August 29, 2013 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
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