With the fighting in Syria escalating into Damascus, there is still no consensus among U.N. Security Council members to push for sanctions or military intervention (as they did for Libya). But the results of a new survey by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, published exclusively today on ForeignPolicy.com, reveals a general consensus among Americans of what they are and are not willing to do to help end the bloodshed in Syria. A sizable majority of those polled support a U.S. role in enforcing sanctions and a no-fly zone in Syria (though a larger majority opposes bombing Syrian air defenses, which could be a prerequisite step to enforcing a no-fly zone). At the same time, overwhelming majorities oppose more forceful measures such as arming the Syrian opposition or sending troops into Syria.
The Chicago Council Survey, fielded May 25 through June 8, asked over 1,800 Americans about a series of diplomatic and military options the United States could pursue along with its allies to stem the fighting in Syria. It found that the American public was generally ready to support limited measures, even before the fighting extended toward Damascus, but had little appetite for more direct actions. Six out of ten said they supported increasing economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Syrian regime (63 percent), and nearly as many said they would support enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria (58 percent). Beyond these options, there is limited support for sending arms and supplies to anti-government groups in Syria (27 percent; 67 percent oppose), bombing Syrian air defenses (22 percent; 72 percent oppose), or sending troops into Syria (14 percent; 81 percent oppose).
In contrast to many other issues, support for these actions crosses partisan affiliation: a majority among Republicans, Democrats, and independents all support economic and diplomatic sanctions and a no-fly zone. Conversely, a majority across political party identification opposes other options.
The most recent U.N. authorization of military force under Chapter VII, Resolution 1973, imposed strict sanctions and a no-fly zone over Libya. Notably, Britain and France led the air campaign, rather than the United States. This approach proved popular with Americans: 79 percent approved of U.S. participation at some level in the Libya operation. The experience of Libya has primed U.S. opinion toward the effectiveness of limited and multinational efforts to stem acts of government aggression against civilians. In addition, Chicago Council surveys have consistently shown broad support for multilateral intervention in cases in which a government engages in large-scale violations of human rights.
Dina Smeltz is a fellow in public opinion and global affairs at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and a former director of research in the Middle East and South Asia division of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the U.S. State Department’s Office of Research. The full report summarizing the findings of the 2012 Chicago Council Survey will be released on September 13; more information can be found at thechicagocouncil.org, or sign up to receive e-mail alerts about the 2012 Chicago Council Survey.
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