This week, the White House is pulling out all the stops and bringing up all the big guns to build support for an attack against Syria. One day, House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor walk out of the Oval Office and announce that they will support the president's request for an action authorization. Then, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel got a good media hit with testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The president will need all of this and more to convince Congress – and even more importantly, the American public – of the need for the attack. But selling an attack against Syria to the public will be more difficult than pitching Congress.
A poll conducted over the Labor Day weekend by the Pew Research Center shows that Americans oppose a U.S. attack on the Assad regime in retaliation for the dictator's use of chemical weapons. Only three in 10 (29 percent) support an attack while almost half (48 percent) of the public opposes hostilities.
People don't buy the administration's pitch that action against Syria would only be a short surgical strike. Six in 10 (61 percent) believe an attack on Syria would lead to long-term involvement there. The Bush administration told Americans that it would only take a few weeks to defeat Iraq. Our invasion of Iraq led to 10 years of combat and casualties, and caused our struggle in Afghanistan to be even longer. Enough is enough!
The idea behind data analysis is to look for patterns. There are clearly patterns here. About half (48 percent) of the public opposes an attack on Syria, which is the same number of Americans who don't believe the president has made a clear case for military action and who don't think a military strike against Syria's military arsenal would be effective (51 percent).
The public is also concerned about the repercussions against the U.S. in the region that would result from an attack on Syria. Three in four (74 percent) believe there would be a backlash against the U.S. in the Middle East in the aftermath of an American attack. The public has a better understanding of lessons learned in the region than most policymakers do.
Americans are just tired of war and who can blame them? The administration hopes that a congressional authorization will soften public opposition to the hostilities against Syria. Maybe it would. But public opposition to the war will make it tough to convince the House to support the president. A rejection of the authorization by Congress would make it very difficult for the president to survive politically if he attacks without legislative consent.