“I think he’s looking very weak, and he put us in a dangerous situation with Syria [bold mine-DL],” Arlene Woods, 57, an independent voter from Ellicott City, Md., said in a follow-up interview. “I have a son in the military. When it doesn’t involve our own safety or security on our soil, then I don’t think it’s justifiable to use military force.”
I found the quote interesting because it is almost always hawks that fault presidents for “weakness” when they do not order military action. In this case, the respondent faulted Obama in these terms because he was about to take the U.S. into a new conflict that she regarded as unnecessary. The quote also seems to be very representative of the public’s view of military action against Syria. According to the poll, even if Syria doesn’t give up its chemical weapons 57% are still opposed to U.S. airstrikes. Like this respondent, the public doesn’t accept that attacking Syria has anything to do with U.S. security, and therefore will not support an attack no matter what happens with the chemical weapons deal.
What’s more, there are good reasons to believe that the majority has the right instincts on this question. Most Americans have no desire for the U.S. to enter any more conflicts for obvious reasons, but something much more important has been confirmed during the Syria debate. Most Americans reject the idea that the U.S. is obliged to intervene in foreign conflicts, and this is true whether it is justified in terms of enforcing international norms or upholding a warped version of “American exceptionalism.” The truth about the interventionist type of “American exceptionalism” that Obama invoked in his last two speeches is that most Americans don’t subscribe to it.