September 13, 2013

The new NBC/WSJ poll I mentioned this morning also asked some questions that demonstrate in a new way that the White House really has not succeeded in making the case for military intervention in Syria. Americans tilt against strikes even if if they are described as strictly limited to only destroying weapons used in chemical attacks.

Here, from the internals (which were sent over by the good folks at NBC), are the key findings:

As you may know, it has been reported that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on its citizens. President Obama has decided to seek Congressional approval for military action against Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons. Do you think your Member of Congress should vote to approve the use of military action against Syria or not?

Yes, should approve of military action: 33

No, should not approve of military action: 58

And:

Now, more specifically, if U.S. military action in Syria were limited to air strikes using cruise missiles launched from U.S. naval ships that were meant to destroy military units and infrastructure used to carry out chemical attacks would you support or oppose this U.S. military action in Syria?

Support: 44

Oppose: 51

That is a very generous description of strict limits on the mission, and even so a majority still opposes it. That description only brings down opposition by seven points.

Meanwhile, the poll also finds 54 percent think Obama has not made a convincing case for action, versus only 33 percent — one third! — who say he has. And 59 percent say they’d oppose it if Obama, “in his role as Commander-in-Chief” (more generous wording), pursues military action absent Congressional approval.

It’s hard to see how this basic dynamic could get shaken up anytime soon, absent something truly dramatic. If diplomacy falters it’s still hard to imagine Congress authorizing action at this point. And the public is clear: No strikes without Congressional approval.

So it seems likely we’re down to two possible outcomes: Either a diplomatic solution will be reached, or the whole thing — when it comes to the American political conversation, at least — will just be allowed to fade away quietly. A diplomatic outcome could certainly upend the politics of all this. I’d argue that previous missteps could well be forgotten in the event of a relatively positive resolution averting war (the public just doesn’t care about process), and it could even conceivably turn into a positive for the White House. But for now at least it seems opposition to any military action is only hardening.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.