Nearly three-quarters of the public says that in general, the U.S. military “should not get involved” in Syria; just 17 percent support such a mission. But asked about specifics, 62 percent support intervention if limited to creating a no-fly zone with U.S. aircraft. And support for involving the U.S. military in general rises to 63 percent if Syria’s government uses chemical weapons on its own people. If the Syrian government lost control of their stockpile of chemical weapons -- known to be among the world’s largest -- 70 percent would support U.S. military action.
While considered a less likely scenario, nearly seven in 10 supports getting involved if Syria attacks a neighboring U.S. ally. On Friday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta authorized the deployment of 400 troops to operate Patriot missile batteries along Turkey’s Syrian border. The missiles could technically be used to help enforce a no-fly zone. In the Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support using U.S. aircraft to create a no-fly zone.
The outcome is uncertain, but most Americans already believe the result of unrest in Syria is having a detrimental effect on U.S. interests in the region (56 percent), while fewer than one in five see a positive impact (17 percent). By 44 to 26 percent, more say the outcome will hurt than help America’s ability to fight terrorists in the region. On both issues, more than a quarter are unsure about the impact or believe it will have “no effect.”
Obama’s weak reviews for recognizing Syrian rebel groups owe in part to a lack of strong backing from fellow Democrats. Just 40 percent of Democrats approve of his decision, while 31 percent oppose it. Republicans are more united with nearly two-thirds opposing the decision (64 percent), while independents tilt in opposition, 48 to 31 percent.
The negative ratings contrast with the president’s overall standing on global affairs: 54 percent of Americans approve of his performance on international affairs, up slightly from the fall and from 47 percent in April, when he tied his record low.
The telephone poll was conducted Dec. 13 to 16 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Questions about specific cases of military involvement in Syria and the impact of U.S. interests were asked of half the sample and have an error margin of 5 to 5.5 percentage points. See full question wording and results here.
Polling director Jon Cohen and polling manager Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.