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Syria Hawks vs. the Public (II)

Max Boot misses [1] 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 [2] 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 [2] 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:

Diplomacy Endorsed, Skepticism Abounds

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 [3] today. On the Russian deal, as in the Syria debate more generally, political and media elites are sharply at odds [4] 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.

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6 Comments To "Syria Hawks vs. the Public (II)"

#1 Comment By icarusr On September 19, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

And this latest from Wieseltier – does he ever give up bleating with torn and bloodied shirts the constant bombing of Israel’s neighbours?

“bizarre decision to crowd-source his responsibilities as commander-in-chief.”

Yeah. He really did say that.

#2 Comment By collin On September 19, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

These Syrian polls are not surprising here in which most Americans don’t think Syrian a strategic interest for our nation to interfere with. If pundits want a simpler more Homer Simpson version, then say “Most Americans really don’t care about Syria.”

#3 Comment By Myron Hudson On September 19, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

If nothing else, this firmly establishes that elitism – including the attendant arrogance and ignorance – is deeply seated in both ends of the DC political spectrum. Boot is simply sifting for ‘facts’ that support what he has already decided.

#4 Comment By powers that be On September 19, 2013 @ 7:28 pm

Boot just doesn’t “get” that most Americans don’t share his unhealthy, stalker-like fixation on the Middle East.

To the rest of us it’s a distant, alien shore filled with people who – thanks in part to the foreign policy prescriptions of Boot and his ilk – are now either ripping us off or trying to kill us.

We should return to standard international behavior: one embassy per country, maybe a consulate or two, and whatever trade relations are mutually beneficial. No bases, no “aid”, no military strikes, and no more insulting our intelligence with joke “peace negotiations”.

#5 Comment By James Canning On September 19, 2013 @ 7:39 pm

Sound analysis, Daniel.

#6 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 20, 2013 @ 11:26 am

“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 reps do use their best business judgment, in the modern vernacular and practice of having not much accountability to other than the shareholders – that is, the donorist elites.

Since clear thinkers across all the political spectrum and throughout history have acknowledged the common people of any nation never want war, but that it must be ginned up through disinformation, propaganda, ruses and false provocations to manufacture public opinion in its favor, genuine opinion originating with the public based on the truth, is a better guide to national policy than that driven by elite special interests.

The current 18th century version of semi-democratic governance does not represent the end of historical progress in good government.

With the revolution of information and accountability enabled by new technology, there is now the possibility for far more accountable and representative decision-making.

For the first time, direct democracy is actually practical. The failures and corruption of the present system, largely in thrall to interests counter to those of most in the nation, is become profoundly undemocratic and unaccountable.

There is no reason whatsoever to believe the outcomes of direct democracy would be worse, unless you are one of the donorist elites whose unaccountable control would be weakened.

Let the truth be revealed and let an informed public speak.

(Certainly the worst among the people could not possibly be any more ignorant than certain of our legislators who wrote a Pravda screed.)