Support for U.S. military strikes in Syria is lower than any other intervention in the last 20 years, according to a new poll.
Just 36 percent of Americans support President Barack Obama's call for air strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who the U.S. claims used chemical weapons to kill about 1,400 Syrians, including more than 400 children, according to a Gallup survey released Friday. Obama said he would seek congressional approval before moving ahead with the intervention, but faces stiff opposition from members, the public and the international community.
"Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence," Obama said Friday during a news conference at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. "And that's not the world that we want to live in."
The negative public opinion underscores why the president said he would address the public Tuesday to lay out his case for the intervention.
Gallup compiled public opinion on other recent military operations – from the Iraq War to Kosovo – all of which had more support than Obama's plan for Syria.
In 1999 during the Clinton administration, 43 percent of people said they supported the mission in Kosovo and the Balkans. But all three wars started under Bush administrations earned well over 50 percent support: George H.W. Bush's Persian Gulf War had 62 percent support in 1991; George W. Bush's war in Afghanistan, launched in the wake of 9/11, earned 82 percent support; and his Iraq War received 59 percent support.
"Over the past 20 years, Americans' support for U.S. military engagements at the beginning of conflicts has traditionally been quite high, with an average of 68 percent of approving of 10 previous newly commenced conflicts," said Andrew Dugan, a polling analyst for Gallup in a memo accompanying the survey results.
But support for military conflicts doesn't remain static, Dugan said.
"The 1999 Kosovo-Balkans and 2003 Iraq conflicts are the clearest examples of the rally effect," he said. "Americans' backing of the bombing campaign in the former Yugoslavia climbed to majority levels once the United States became militarily involved. The 2003 Iraq War is even more dramatic."
In February 2003, support for the Iraq War was at 56 percent, but by mid-March, it had climbed to 66 percent and after the began it soared to 76 percent, according to Gallup.
The new poll surveyed 1,021 adults on Sept. 3-4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.