Second, the poll suggests the ways in which a even a thoroughly populist grand strategy will not necessarily be all that… popular [bold mine-DL]. On the one hand, it’s clear that Americans approve of the president’s decision not to use force in Syria after threatening to do so. On the other hand, Americans aren’t naïve. They know full well that the odds of diplomatic successes in Syria and Iran are not great — even if that’s the option they prefer.
On Syria, Drezner is right that the public is extremely skeptical that the disarmament plan will work as promised, but the important point is that the success of the plan doesn’t concern most of them. The public’s priority is to keep the U.S. out of Syria’s conflict. Insofar as the Russian deal gives Obama a way to avoid military action, most Americans are all for it. However, most don’t believe that the U.S. should use force against Syria, and similarly don’t think force should have ever been threatened in the first place, which is why they don’t support imposing “consequences” on Syria if it fails to adhere to the terms of the deal. That suggests that most Americans would have been satisfied if Obama had abandoned his threat to attack Syria when it became clear that there was very little domestic support for doing this. In short, the option that Americans most prefer is that the U.S. limit its exposure to the Syrian conflict as much as possible. Especially over the last few months, Obama’s Syria policy has moved in the opposite direction, and it has predictably met with increasing disapproval. As long as Obama holds out the possibility that the U.S. might still attack Syria, that decline is unlikely to be reversed and may continue.
On Iran, the poll shows a surprising amount of confidence in the chance for improving relations with the U.S. 30% say that they expect that “diplomatic efforts” by Obama and Rouhani will cause “some” or “a lot” of improvement, which is equal to the number saying that it won’t improve relations much at all. Another 38% say that they don’t know enough to say either way. So many Americans are unsure whether anything will come from these efforts, but Americans are just as likely to believe that they will improve U.S.-Iran relations as they are to dismiss them.