WASHINGTON — Only 1 in 5 Americans believe that failing to respond to chemical weapons attacks in Syria would embolden other rogue governments, rejecting the heart of a weeks-long White House campaign for U.S. military strikes, an Associated Press poll concluded Monday.
The poll of 1,007 adults nationwide found that most Americans oppose even a limited attack on Syria — likely with cruise missiles — despite Obama administration warnings that inaction would risk national security and ignore a gruesome humanitarian crisis. And a slim majority — 53 percent — fear that a strike would lead to a long-term U.S. military commitment in Syria.
The survey reflects a U.S. public that is tired of Mideast wars after a dozen years of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. It undercuts political support President Barack Obama is hoping to garner as he seeks congressional authorization this week to strike the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"We need to stop being so aggressive militarily," Izzy Briggs, a business services consultant from Epsom, N.H., said Monday. "I think these small countries are feeling very intimidated by the U.S. and some feel they have to have these sorts of weapons."
U.S. officials have cited a high confidence in intelligence that indicates Assad's government launched the Aug. 21 attacks that they say killed more than 1,400 Syrians. Obama last year warned Assad that using chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war would amount to a "red line" that, if crossed, would bring a swift U.S. response.
In the weeks since the attacks, the administration has argued that hostile governments in Iran and North Korea, and extremist groups like Hezbollah, would be more likely to use weapons of mass destruction in future conflicts if Assad is not punished. To bolster the case, U.S. officials last weekend also released grim video footage showing young children gasping for breath and rows of dead bodies in the hours after the chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs.