Last week, several polls came out assessing U.S. public opinion on intervention in Syria.
According to the Huffington Post poll, Americans oppose U.S. air strikes on Syria by 3-to-1. They oppose sending arms to the rebels by 4-to-1. They oppose putting U.S. ground troops into Syria by 14-to-1. Democrats, Republicans and independents are all against getting involved in that civil war that has produced 1.2 million refugees and 70,000 dead.
A CBS/New York Times poll found that by 62-to-24 Americans want to stay out of the Syrian war. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that by 61-to-10 Americans oppose any U.S. intervention.
But the numbers shift when the public is asked if it would make a difference if the Syrian regime used poison gas. In that case, opposition to U.S. intervention drops to 44-to-27 in Reuters/Ipsos.
Yet on the Sunday talk shows and cable news, the hawks are over-represented. To have a senator call for arming the rebels and U.S. air strikes is a better ratings “get” than to have on a senator who wants to stay out of the war.
In that same CBS poll, however, the 10 percent of all Americans who say they follow the Syrian situation closely were evenly divided, 47-to-48, on whether to intervene.
The portrait of America that emerges is of a nation not overly interested in what is going on in Syria, but which overwhelmingly wants to stay out of the war.
But it is also a nation whose foreign policy elites are far more interventionist and far more supportive of sending weapons to the rebels and using U.S. air power. From these polls, it is hard not to escape the conclusion that the Beltway elites who shape U.S. foreign policy no longer represent the manifest will of Middle America.
America has not gone isolationist, but has become anti-interventionist. This country does not want its soldiers sent into any more misbegotten adventures like Iraq and Afghanistan, and does not see any vital national interest in who comes out on top in Syria.
But who is speaking up for that great silent majority? Who in the U.S. Senate is on national TV standing up to the interventionists?
Who in the Republican Party is calling out the McCainiacs?
Another story that came out this weekend, smothered by news of Israeli air strikes on Syrian military installations and missile depots, might cool elite enthusiasm — and kill any public desire to intervene.
“Syrian Rebels May Have Used Sarin Gas,” ran the headline in Monday’s New York Times. Datelined Geneva, the story began:
“United Nations human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical workers indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said Sunday.”
The U.N. commission has found no evidence that the Syrian army used chemical weapons. But Carla Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general and a commission member, stated:
“Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals, and according to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated.
“This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels.”
In short, the war criminals may be the people on whose behalf we are supposed to intervene. And if it was the rebels who used sarin gas, and not the forces of President Bashar Assad, more than a few questions arise that need answering.
For just two weeks ago, the White House informed Congress:
“Our intelligence community does assess, with varying degrees of confidence, that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin.”
A clamor then arose demanding Obama make good on his threat that the Syrian regime’s use of poison gas would cross a “red line” and be a “game changer,” calling forth “enormous consequences.”
If the Syrian military did not use sarin, but the rebels did, who in the U.S. intelligence community blew this one? From whom did U.S. agencies get their evidence that sarin had been used by Damascus? Were we almost suckered by someone’s latest lies about weapons of mass destruction into fighting yet another unnecessary war?
When allegations of the Syrian government’s use of sarin arose, many in Congress, especially in the Republican Party, denounced Obama for fecklessness in backing off of his “red line” threat.
It now appears that Obama may have saved us from a strategic disaster by not plunging ahead with military action. And the question should be put to the war hawks:
If Assad’s use of sarin should call forth U.S. air strikes, ought not the use of sarin by the rebels, if confirmed, cause this country to wash its hands of those war criminals?