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New Polls Show Americans Believe U.S. Should Not Support Israeli Attack on Iran

In the lead-up to the final presidential debate, which will focus on U.S. foreign policy, two major new polls track U.S. opinion on issues related to the Mideast.  The first poll was conducted for the Brookings Institution, usually a pro-Israel think tank (funded by Haim Saban).  But the actual research was conducted by University of Maryland’s Shibley Telhami who has conducted many Middle Eastern polls and is himself Palestinian-American.  For that reason, I find it to the be the more intriguing of the two reports.  The second is by the Pew Center for the People and the Press.  Both polls cover similar terrain, but the first appears to offer more hopeful (i.e. progressive) results and the second more pessimistic ones.  On some issues, they appear to contradict each other (though there are subtle differences in the way questions were articulated on these particular ones).

Here are some of the salient results of the Brookings poll: Most Americans believe that a minority of Libyans participated in, and supported the bloodshed at our diplomatic facilities in Benghazi (though they believe the local governments didn’t do enough to protect our personnel).  A majority of Americans also believe our conflict with the Arab world is about political power rather than religion or culture (take that, Mitt!).

American opinion has shifted since the beginning of the Arab spring, when most of us believed the uprisings were about the urge toward democracy and populism.  Now more Americans believe the uprisings are about the rise of Islamism.  Those polled were almost equally split in their views of Arabs (49% favorable, 47% unfavorable–views of Muslims were slightly less favorable).  Half of those questioned said they’d like to see Arab countries continue their move toward democracy even if it meant they opposed U.S. interests.  Favorable views of Muslim countries have sunk considerably in the past few months.  Most striking is the decline of Turkey–which has had no discernible differences lately with the U.S.–from 60% favorable to 48%.

A slim plurality (46%) says the U.S. should continue its level of diplomatic involvement in the region.  Only 14% say we should increase our involvement.

While a strong majority of Americans favor sanctions against Syria and enforcement of a No-Fly zone, a small minority support more robust interventionist measures like arming the opposition or bombing Syrian targets.

Americans’ view of an Israeli attack on Iran is mixed.  While a slim minority wants us to actively support such an approach.  53% want us to take a neutral approach.  Only 29% think we should actively oppose such an assault.  A strong majority believe an Israeli attack will worsen the U.S. strategic position in the region.

The Pew poll finds that Americans have become much more pessimistic about the results of the Arab Spring.  They do not believe it will result in lasting positive impacts for those in the region and more Americans believe it will harm our interests than help them.  A majority of respondents said they preferred stability over democracy (isn’t it interesting how Americans have such strong views of what type of governments would be best for others?).

While 56% of Americans agree (with Israel) that it’s more important to take a “strong stand” against Iran, only 35% believe it’s more important to avoid military conflict.

A slight plurality of Americans trust Barack Obama more than Romney regarding foreign policy issues.  But this represents a marked 15% rise for Romney since the last poll.  A strong majority of those polled believe that changes of government in Egypt and Libya will not lead to improvements there.  A large majority believe the U.S. should be less involved in bringing leadership changes in the region.

44% says that U.S. support for Israel is “about right,” while 22% say we offer too much support and 25% say too little.  This would indicate that, at least on this particular issue, a great majority of Americans disagree with Mitt Romney’s views, largely dictated by Sheldon Adelson’s $100-million contribution, toward Israel.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • lifelong October 21, 2012, 5:42 AM

    Goes to show how screwed up American society really is: if Obama were to make peace with Iran tomorrow and avert a possible war, he would be voted out of office in November. If he started a war tomorrow and killed 100’000 Iranians, he would have his re-election guaranteed.

    The world is sick.

  • lifelong October 21, 2012, 5:43 AM

    Should read: ‘he would be voted out of office in November for being weak’.

  • Rehmat October 21, 2012, 8:39 AM

    Shibley Telhami is Zionist apologist otherwise he would not be working for Zioconservative think tank like Brooking Institute. He, having an Arab family roots – is a good donkey to demonize Arabs and Muslims.

    Now, every political-aware person knows that the US administration is controlled by AIPAC and other major groups of interests – and not the American voters.

    Paul Craig Roberts, is a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Zioconservative Wall Street Journal. On October 2, 2012, he posted his views on Cynthia McKinney and American leadership.

    “Billions of dollars have been spent on political propaganda, but not a single important issue has been addressed. The closest the campaign has come to a political issue is which candidate can grovel the lowest at the feet of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu. Romney won that contest. But for the rest, well, it is like two elementary school children sticking their tongues out at one another,” says Paul Craig Roberts.


    • Richard Silverstein October 21, 2012, 5:25 PM

      Can the rhetorical overkill. And can the unnecessary abuse of individuals like Shibley Telhami. Confine those prejudices to your blog.

  • mary October 21, 2012, 1:51 PM

    I think the horror of what is happening in Syria has stopped the Arab Spring in its tracks. The momentum has been lost and the extremists have hijacked the whole thing. Chief among the meddlers is Iran, backing Assad.

    The problem with US foreign policy is that it places US interests second to Israel’s, and the “special relationship” is detrimental to the Palestinian people, who are rapidly losing what is left of their homeland. US support and assistance in maintaining the occupation whilst hypocritically calling for a dead two-state solution makes the US look hypocritical and ridiculous, as does their consistent vetoing of any disciplinary actions in the UN against Israel for its violations of humanitarian law and specifically the Geneva Convention against collective punishment.

  • Piotr Berman October 21, 2012, 4:37 PM

    “Americans’ view of an Israeli attack on Iran is mixed. While a slim minority wants us to actively support such an approach. 53% want us to take a neutral approach. Only 29% think we should actively oppose such an assault. A strong majority believe an Israeli attack will worsen the U.S. strategic position in the region.”

    It seems that a large part of American public wishes to worsen U.S. strategic position in the region. A bit weird.

    • Richard Silverstein October 21, 2012, 5:26 PM

      Indeed. Most American’s are willing to worsen our strategic position in return for allowing Israel to attack Iran.

      • mary October 22, 2012, 2:14 AM

        That is what effective fearmongering can accomplish. It is classic prewar propaganda. Remember Iraq and the WMD’s and how Cheney claimed that Saddam was behind 9/11.

  • dickerson3870 October 22, 2012, 12:27 AM

    RE: “A majority of respondents said they preferred stability over democracy (isn’t it interesting how Americans have such strong views of what type of governments would be best for others?).” ~ R.S.

    MY COMMENT: If “push comes to shove” here in the U.S., I wonder if these respondents will also prefer stability over democracy. Judging from the erosion of civil liberties since 9/11, I fear that they might.

  • Piotr Berman October 22, 2012, 1:57 PM

    Comment one: sometimes our intellectual gaze from the heights of American civilization at inferior cultures like Russia and ponder how is it that people there prefer stability (and stronger hand of the state) rather than a wider scope of freedoms. Clearly, in those cases they have in mind “the several states” as they were conceived and not how they truly function.

    Comment two: my impression is that the public is extremely ambivalent because it is presented with very partial and inconsistent information. Unless you are highly inquisitive and have a lot of time to waste, how can you get an idea what is “our strategic position”, “national interest”, or that America, mighty as it is, must choose what it wishes to accomplish.

    Let me give a little example. We may wish to pressure China to regulate trade and currency differently than they do now so we would have a better balance of trade. Or we may pressure them to cooperate better in imposing sanctions on China. As we cannot send Marines to Beijing and replace the government we do not like, all those issues require “give and take”. So which one is it: better sanctions or better trade? Jobs or a satisfaction that “the mullahs” will have hard time?

    Of course, it is not just China, but our entire foreign and military policy is predicated upon assumption that there is no conflict between various goals that we may have or might have if we were not chasing shadows like cajoling countries all over Africa and Oceania to vote about Israel the way we like (or to give us immunity from prosecutions at International Criminal Court).

    • mary October 23, 2012, 2:45 AM

      Or, of course, it is predicated upon the notion that we can bully our way to achieving our goals (a/k/a hegemony). Sad fact is that the US is a failing empire whose influence is fading. Egypt is probably going to dump the Camp David agreement someday soon. China is holding the bulk of US debt. US military power is stretched beyond its limit, so all the US can do is watch while Syria comes apart at the seams and struggle to keep the situation with Iran from turning violent. This is a blessing, actually, because World War III looms. The US is also standing at the cusp of the biggest revelation of all – that it’s snug little “special relationship” may very well ignite a powder keg unless it ends.

      • mary October 23, 2012, 2:46 AM

        * with Israel (typo)

  • Fred Plester October 25, 2012, 12:30 PM


    They are citing the legal issue, which is valid, but the sub-text is to ensure that if Israel acts unilaterally, Israel will face the consequences and retaliation on its own as well.

    It’s also worth noting that very few middle-ranking American officers will be dismayed if the British government makes it harder for the American government to send their men on a completely futile mission against America’s long term vital interests. Attacking Iran is also a route which the Obama administration will take only if blackmailed (or the Iranians overplay their hand to a ludicrous extent), so they may not privately resent this as much as they are likely to in public prior to the election.

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