Majority of Americans Wary Of U.S. Intervention In Syria As War Prospects Escalate

Human Rights

U.S. forces are preparing to launch strikes on Syria as early as Thursday, according to U.S. officials.  The action comes following the alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus suburbs in Syria last week, which claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians.

Mainstream media such as CNN and Fox News have appeared to support the intervention in Syria with pro-war messages appearing in every news update.  Today, CNN’s headline read, “Hagel: We’re ready to go’ if ordered on Syria chemical weapons”.

According to John Queally of MPN, these US media outlets are the real amplifers of the call to strike Syria:

“…If there were voices cautioning against a volly of U.S./NATO airstrikes ... most media consumers scanning the front pages of top news websites wouldn’t know it.   Instead what they’d see if they looked at CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, the Huffington Post on Tuesday morning was not so much a U.S. government on tapping the “drums of war” but a corporate media system banging on them,” he said.

Yet, despite the "imminent attack" on Syria, a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken on August 19-23 suggests that many Americans are opposed to U.S. intervention in the Syrian conflict.  The poll found that 60 percent of Americans surveyed would not support U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war, Reuters reported.

Moreover, only 25 percent of Americans would support U.S. intervention if President Bashar al-Assad's forces used chemical weapons to attack civilians, while 46 percent would oppose it.  This figure suggests a decline in support since August 13 when the percentage of Americans backing intervention if chemical weapons were used was 30 percent. 

The findings are slightly surprising in light of the growing unrest in Syria and influx of recent disturbing pictures from the alleged chemical attack last week. However, Reuters suggests that such “emotionally wrenching” images may in fact be hardening the attitudes of Americans in opposing any involvement in the conflict.

Moreover, the results suggest that if Obama intervenes, he may be faced with steady opposition from the American public who are already cautious of military action following more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the past, Obama has been reluctant to intervene in the Syrian war, only warning that any use of chemical or biological weapons would cross a “red line" last year. That threshold appeared to be crossed in June when Syrian troops were accused of using chemical weapons, prompting the US to respond by supplying military aid to groups of Syrian rebels.

Following the suspected chemical attack near Damascus last Wednesday, Obama called the incident “an event of great concern” pointing US intelligence officials to investigate the use of chemical weapons.

Obama has come under increasing pressure from other countries such as France and Israel to respond more forcefully to the humanitarian crisis in the past which has to date claimed the lives of 100,000 people and been raging for more than two years. However, others have questioned why the United States is choosing to intervene now and not earlier in the civil war, considering that the last two years has included continuous massacres and bombings amounting to an obvious international humanitarian crisis.

As CNN reported, “Why does the use of chemical weapons justify international retribution with military force, in a way that two years of brutal repression with tanks and planes does not? And where in international law is the legal 'cover' for such action?”

The White House told CNN that there is a good reason to view chemical attacks differently:

"The use of chemical weapons is contrary to the standards adopted by the vast majority of nations and international efforts since World War I to eliminate the use of such weapons … The use of these weapons on a mass scale and a threat of proliferation is a threat to our national interests and a concern to the entire world,” a Whitehouse spokesman said.

However, today, United Nations international envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi said that any U.S. military action taken in response to apparent chemical weapon attacks in Syria would need to be approved by the United Nations Security Council.

"I think international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council. That is what international law says," he told a news conference in Geneva, Reuters reported.

Moreover, former U.S. military officer from Maryland, Charles Kohls, 68, said Obama should be cautious about any intervention and that the possibility of a chemical attack did not alter his belief that the US should stay out of Syria or any war for that matter:

"The United States has become too much of the world's policeman and we have become involved in too many places that should be a United Nations realm, not ours …  I don't think we ought to intervene in Syria,” he said.

Historically, the U.S. has been selective in intervening in the use of chemical weapons in international conflicts, turning an obvious blind eye to the issue in the past such as Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish civilians in 1988. 

There is an also an argument circulating in favor of pre-emptive self defense which suggests the possibility of a “collective self-defense rationale" for using military intervention to address such a threat.  However, the concept has only gained slight support in the United States.

Nonetheless, despite the increasing humanitarian toll and external pressure for military action, Americans remain opposed to intervention with 11 percent of those surveyed saying Obama should do more to intervene than send arms to rebels. 

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