Weighing War, Peace and Polls

One of the explanations most often cited for President Obama’s maddeningly tentative approach to Syria — for his initial reluctance to get involved, his decision to seek congressional cover, and for the probability that a strike, if ever it comes, will be limited in scope — is the opposition of the American public. Officials and pundits point to polls, like a Sept. 3 Pew survey showing that just 29 percent of Americans endorse airstrikes, and conclude that the president’s hands are tied. …

The relationship between public opinion and foreign policy is actually quite complicated and fluid. A look at other recent conflicts reveals that far from being immutable, Americans’ views of armed intervention can shift quickly and dramatically — and that there’s a great deal a president can do to bring a skeptical public on board. [cont.]

Jonathan Tepperman (Foreign Affairs), New York Times

Polls: Foreign affairs | Syria