June 14, 2013

U.S. aid to Syrian rebels: Public has opposed American involvement in the past

While the Obama administration has been criticized by Republican Sen. John McCain and other advocates of a more assertive U.S. role in aiding the rebels in Syria, public opinion surveys have consistently shown Americans to have little interest in the conflict and have been opposed — or lukewarm, at best, — to getting involved in the conflict.

FT_Syria_InvolvedBig majorities of the U.S. public (as well as the publics of many countries in the Mideast) have opposed the idea of the U.S. sending weapons to the rebels — something that President Obama this week decided to do after his administration concluded that the Syrian government had crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons against its opposition.

In a survey conducted last December, 65% of Americans opposed the U.S. and its allies sending arms to anti-government groups in Syria, about the same number as held that view the previous March. About an equal number (63%) of Americans said the U.S. did not have a responsibility to get involved in the Syrian conflict.

Those surveys were conducted before the specter of chemical weapons use by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad came into the spotlight.

But in a Pew Research Center survey conducted in late April, after claims of chemical weapons use had been in the news, the findings showed only a modest willingness on the part of Americans to take action. A plurality (45%) said they would favor military action against Syria if it was confirmed that chemical weapons had been used, while 31% opposed doing so.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, conducted May 30-June 2, framed the question of involvement this way: “Syrian civilians have been killed by their government in response to protests and civil unrest” and asked those surveyed to choose among a series of actions that U.S. might take. Just 11% supported providing arms to the opposition and 15% backed taking military action to stop the killing. About four-in-ten (42%) said humanitarian assistance should be provided and 24% said no action should be taken at all.

As for the general proposition of involvement, a survey by the New York Times/CBS News (May 31-June 4)  — like the Pew Research polls — found more than six-in-ten Americans saying the U.S. did not have a responsibility to intervene in Syria. A Fox News survey (May 18-20) found that 68% agreed with the statement “The U.S. should NOT do more in Syria because it’s a civil war that’s a no-win situation for the U.S., and we could actually end up helping anti-American extremist groups.”

FT_US_Europe2A Pew Research Center survey conducted in March also found opposition abroad to the U.S. or allies sending arms to the Syrian rebels.

In Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt and the Palestinian territories, roughly six-in-ten or more opposed western countries sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria. The only support for such aid came in Jordan where 53% backed military help for the rebels from the West.

Similarly, majorities in France (69%), Britain (57%), Turkey (65%) and Germany (82%) — like the U.S. public — opposed their own countries sending arms and military supplies to the rebels.



Topics: Wars and International Conflicts, Middle East and North Africa, Foreign Affairs and Policy, Foreign News

  1. Photo of Bruce Drake

    is a senior editor at Pew Research Center.


  1. Jim4 years ago

    The young men went off to the war with enthusiasm – because they had never been in a battle.

    Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-1989 is the strongest argument against our continued involvement in Afghanistan that I have read.

    I believe we have accomplished all we can there and should declare complete with the death of Osama Bin Laden.

    We have gone already, too far down that same slippery slope that the Russians slid to the bottom of in their activities there.

    I know that Syria is a different story and that our allies and those who are not allies are pressing the US to “do more” there, but I see this as another move that will ultimately make more enemies for the US and do little or nothing to further our global or Mid-East aims. Nor will it contribute to stability in the area but open doors for further sectarian conflict.

    The lesson of history is that client states, colonies, subservient peoples will always turn on the patron state no matter how benevolent that patron may be.

    Our country was founded on the inherent desire for self rule. Should we not expect that basic human need from others.

    1. Kathy4 years ago

      Very well said Jim. Wish I could be so articulate. Why oh why do we have to involve ourselves with the mess in the middle east? They have been fighting for thousands of years over the same things. All we get is their hatred for us.

    2. Lisa4 years ago

      I hope Obama is not giving support to the rebels in order to “save face” on his red line faux pas. I would rather lose face than lose one America soldier in this conflict. The rebels will be overtaken by Islamic extremists anyway so why arm them?

      No more wars of choice! The public opposes intervention in Syria and it’s not in our interests.