President Obama has a public relations problem with bombing Syria: Polls show that most of the country opposes it.
But so far, the Obama administration has directed its outreach efforts to a Capitol Hill, seeking congressional approval for a series of retaliatory air strikes to degrade the military resources of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to the use of chemical weapons.
Secretary of State John Kerry spent the better part of Tuesday before a Senate committee trying to assuage the concerns of both Republicans and Democrats, who could place strict limits on the resolution submitted by Obama. Kerry said he could envision a scenario where American forces must retrieve chemical weapons from Syria, to keep them out of the hands of the rebels fighting against Assad who are also supposed to be armed at U.S. taxpayer expense.
Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) – who sit atop the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – have amended the bill to reduce the mission to as little as 60 days and to prohibit putting U.S. troops on the ground.
It's too early to know what impact the Senate hearing has had on public perception. But two new polls show that Americans, who are understandably skeptical after the drawn-out escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan, would prefer not to intervene. Obama will likely either need to deliver a stunning success with these airstrikes, or turn public opinion around with his rhetorical gifts. Otherwise, Syria could hamper the rest of his budgetary, tax, and immigration agenda.
Nearly six in 10 people – or 59 percent – oppose missile strikes, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Only 36 percent favor military action in Syria. Among Democrats, 54 percent are opposed to the bombing, a stance matched by 55 percent of Republicans. Among independents or swing voters, an overwhelming 66 percent oppose the air strikes.
The Pew Research Center released a survey Tuesday showing that 23 percent of the country remains undecided, with a plurality of the public – 48 percent – opposed. But Americans feel more certain about the consequences of any intervention. Seventy-four percent say that bombing Syria would create a "backlash" against the United States in the Middle East. Separately, 61 percent fear a "long-term military commitment" would be the result. And just 33 percent believe the strikes would discourage the use of chemical weapons.
In other words – Obama needs to overcome a wall of cynicism about the value of attacking Syria, despite his humanitarian motives.