Gallup has just released its latest poll tracking U.S. opinion on attacking Syria. It finds that of the four major U.S. interventions over the past 20 years (Iraq, Afghanistan, Perisan Gulf, Kosovo/Serbia) Barack Obama’s planned assault on Syria has the lowest level of support of any of them. Only 36% of Americans support an attack while 51% oppose. The most contentious previous intervention, in Kosovo, was opposed by only 45% of Americans. This is the first proposed American attack that begins with opposition above 50%.
Pres. Obama traveled to Russia for the G20 conference where he’d hoped to rally support for his position. At a dramatic dinner party, Presidents Putin and Obama argued for their respective positions. Of the twenty nations, he came away with support from only four (Canada, France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia). Vladimir Putin, the host for the summit, carried all the rest. Obama persuaded no new countries to support him there. He’d hoped to carry home from the meeting a message of broader international support that would translate into momentum in persuading Congress and the American people that both right and the world were on his side. Instead, he leaves the poker game just about cleaned out and with precious little to show.
When he returns to the Congressional debate that begins Monday, he will have the support of the Republican and Democratic leadership and those they can carry with them. But this is turning into a vote in which party loyalty or traditional chits don’t carry much weight. Countervailing those forces are the voices Representatives are hearing back home which are almost universally negative. In an almost unheard of political phenomenon, both liberals and conservatives oppose intervention by wide margins. What support the president gets is from moderates, but even they are split (43% oppose, 40% favor).
Another party on the president’s side is Aipac. It’s announced it will spread 250 of its top lay leaders and lobbyists throughout Capitol Hill this week to carry the message that the Israel Lobby wants the bombs to fall on Damascus. Israel too is “all-in” for the president on this. Not so much because it opposes a gas attack or remembers the gas chambers of World War II. Israel doesn’t care whether Syrians kill each other. In fact, as Alon Pinkas (considered by many a dove on the Israel-Arab conflict) told the NY Times in so many words, Israel wants as many Syrians to die as possible–as long as they die on both sides and leave the country fragmented and powerless to make trouble on its northern border. U.S. officials expect our attack will lead to a “war of attrition.” Who do you think will be hurt the most by this? Obama or Assad or Al Qaeda? No. The average Syrian hiding out in basements or fleeing to the Turkish border. They will be the targets. They will bear the blows.
Syria isn’t Israel’s main target. The main target is Iran. Israel’s military and political echelons are expecting that 2014 will be the decisive year for launching an attack against Iran. Netanyahu figures if Obama will attack Syria then he’ll look favorably on a similar operation against Iran. If he won’t attack Syria, then there’s even less of a chance he’ll attack Iran. Most of Israel’s generals and intelligence chiefs have told Bibi that he’d be a fool to go it alone. That he needs the U.S. to lead on this. That’s why Syria is a crucial test of American mettle. If we fail, then Bibi may be left to his devices in going after the ayatollahs. He knows that most of his generals oppose this and it will be an awfully hard sell.
One development indicates how tough this project is to sell to the Jewish community. J Street is a group I’ve derisively called “Jews for Obama.” I checked their website every day this week to determine where they were going to come down. Frankly, they have supported every Middle East policy advanced by Obama, even the worst like opposing Palestinian statehood in the UN, opposing the Goldstone Report, supporting sanctions against Iran, etc. I was astonished not to see a ringing endorsement of military action. Today, the group’s press officer told Buzzfeed that it had not yet decided which way to vote on the Congressional resolution. This is simply astonishing. The group was created as Obama’s Jewish vanguard, yet even they cannot support him (yet). Even if they do decide to do so, coming into the game as late as they will, renders their support (if it comes) much less effective and meaningful. Ironically, the title of J Street’s upcoming national conference this fall will be “Our Time to Lead.” So much for that.
By rights, the considerations for attacking Syria or not should be weighed on their own merits. The Syrians who’ve died at the hands of the butcher Assad deserve nothing less. But Israel is turning this into a mandate for attacking Iran as well. Since such an assault would be far larger, more devastating, and dangerous to the world order–we too must weigh things in that light. Thus, those who oppose a U.S. attack on Iran must see Syria as the opening salvo in that process and oppose military intervention.