Max Boot misses why the public approves of the Russian deal on Syria:
So Obama will find scant refuge today in the argument that public-opinion polls support his stance. Sure, the public is supportive—but then the public hopes that the chemical-weapons deal will be carried out. Perhaps they imagine, as Ignatius does, that the deal forces Russia to collect Syria’s chemical weapons and could foster a political solution to the mess in Syria. If so, Obama may well be vindicated. But the greater likelihood is that the deal will be an excuse for Assad to stall for time, that most of his chemical weapons will never be destroyed, and that the United States will be complicit along with Russia in keeping his criminal regime in power. In that case, the verdict of the public—and history—is likely to turn against Obama.
The public overwhelmingly supports the deal because it is the available alternative to an attack that a large majority opposes. As other polls have shown, Americans have little or no confidence that the deal will “work” as promised, but most support it anyway because most absolutely don’t want the U.S. to attack Syria. Pew’s latest survey found that a broad majority approves of the decision to pursue the deal, but doesn’t think it will result in Syria’s disarmament. Even if the deal fails, support for military action remains quite low:
This suggests that most Americans would have been satisfied so long as there were no strikes on Syria. They aren’t likely to “turn” on Obama for a Syria-related reason unless he decides to ignore the public and orders an attack on Syria at some point in the future. That is part of what Ignatius was trying to say in his column today. On the Russian deal, as in the Syria debate more generally, political and media elites are sharply at odds with the public, and the Syria hawks among them are even more so. Syria hawks aren’t interested in what the public thinks about the Russian deal because they have never been interested in what the public thought about Syria policy from the start.
Of course, it’s true that we have a representative government rather than a direct democracy. No one is suggesting that foreign policy be made by plebiscite or poll, and elected representatives obviously should use their best judgment when determining whether or not to support military action. The fact that the public is strongly against a specific course of action does not by itself prove that that course of action is unwise or undesirable, but it should taken as a sign that the case for taking that action is either exceptionally poor or that it has been made very badly. Public opposition to a policy certainly can’t be overlooked or dismissed as irrelevant.
In most cases, foreign policy is conducted with little or no attention to what the public prefers, but it is unsustainable and wrong to commit the U.S. to taking military action in defiance of broad public opposition. Doing so makes a mockery of representative government, and creates a dangerous situation in which the U.S. joins a foreign conflict over the objections of most citizens.