Example: both Conor Friedersdorf and Dan Larison had posts up before the debate last night emphasizing the reluctance of the American people to get any “more involved” in “Middle East leadership changes.” That’s from a recent Pew poll. But in early September, just before the attacks in Benghazi, Pew found strong pluralities approving of the intervention there (44/33) and of Barack Obama’s overall handling of Libya (49/32).
In other words, current opposition to the abstract notion of US “involvement” in “leadership changes” turns out to utterly fail to predict reactions to something that sure appears to fit that characterization. At least, when things were going well — or, I should say, at least when no apparent bad news was visible.
Libya is a bad example to cite here. All right, a plurality now approves of a military intervention characterized by low-profile U.S. involvement where the U.S. suffered no casualties, and this approval comes after the war has concluded and the old regime has been overthrown. Presented with the fait accompli that didn’t directly cost the U.S. very much, slightly more Americans favor the war than don’t, and many don’t seem to care one way or the other. Prior to the start of the intervention, there was broad opposition to becoming involved in Libya’s conflict. Granted, some of this opposition wasn’t very deep, and once the bombing started support for the war increased. It was still the lowest recorded level of support at the start of any military intervention in the last 30 years. Most Americans wanted no part of Libya’s conflict, and most still don’t support it. That would back up the impression that the public is very tired of the current level of U.S. involvement in the politics of North Africa and the Near East, and it confirms that most Americans don’t want an increase in that involvement.
The Pew result matches up even better with polling on Syria, where the public’s desire not to become more involved has been consistent from the spring of 2011 until now. Most polls on Syria have found that there is limited support for most of the options proposed by advocates of one form of intervention or another. To take one example, the Chicago Council survey found that 27% supported arming the opposition, 22% favored bombing Syrian air defenses, and 14% supported an invasion. That is entirely consistent with the low levels of support for “more involvement” in regional political upheavals that the Pew survey found.