Public opinion in America is shifting on US involvement in Syria

Tomahawk missiles light up the night sky as they launch headed toward Syria. The strike was ‘a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act,’ a Pentagon spokesman said. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)/ Facebook.

Recent polls indicate that public opinion on US military action in Syria seems to be shifting after President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike last week against the regime of Bashar Assad.

The strike, on a Syrian airfield and nearby military infrastructure, was in response to the chemical attack on civilians last week that the US blamed on Syrian government forces.

A Morning Consult/Politico poll released Wednesday found that 57% of Americans supported airstrikes in Syria, 58% supported establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria including strikes against Syria’s air-defence systems, and 63% of Americans thought the US should do more to end the Syrian conflict. Even more, 66% of respondents said they supported the Trump administration’s strike last week specifically.

This mirrored results of another recent poll from CBS News in which 57% of Americans said they approved of the US strike. A Pew Research Center survey from this week showed a similar level of support, with 58% of Americans approving of the strike.

The recent polls hint at changing American thought on involvement in Syria.

In 2013, after another brutal chemical weapons attack linked to the Assad regime, only 36% of Americans said they favoured the US taking military action to reduce the Syrian government’s ability to use chemical weapons. Gallup noted that it was “among the lowest” figure of support “for any intervention Gallup has asked about in the last 20 years.”

In another Gallup poll from earlier that year, before the chemical attack, 68% of Americans said they opposed military action to end the Syrian conflict even if “all economic and diplomatic efforts fail.”

The shift in opinion from past years might be attributable to the new US president. The Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 57% of Americans thought Trump could end the Syrian civil war, which is dragging into its sixth year. Respondents said they trusted Trump to end the conflict more than they trusted Congress and the UN.

Much of this support comes from Republicans, with 82% of them telling Morning Consult/Politico they were confident that Trump could handle Syria.

Despite the support for targeted airstrikes and other means of bringing the conflict to an end — like diplomacy and economic sanctions — support is split on escalating military action. Only 39% of Americans said in the Morning Consult/Politico poll that they supported using US ground troops to topple the Assad regime, and only 44% supported using them to fight terrorist forces in the country.

CBS found even less support for more direct military involvement — only 18% of respondents said they supported ground troops, and only 30% said they supported airstrikes with no ground troops.

It’s unclear what Trump’s next move in Syria will be. Administration officials have said their position on the Assad regime has not changed — that they oppose the use of chemical weapons but have no plans to force him from power.

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