America’s attitude towards the Middle East has changed
Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 22:09
For those following the Syria news, it’s a familiar story: an embattled Middle East dictatorship perpetrating atrocities against its people, oppressed citizens dealing with violence and divisions among themselves, speculation and uncertainty about illegal weapons and calls for American intervention.
In many ways, the conflict in Syria is very similar to the conditions that brought about American action in Iraq a decade ago, but this time around there is one major difference that’s not playing out overseas, but here in the U.S.
America’s attitude towards becoming involved in another Middle Eastern crisis has changed in the past decade. The public has shown more opposition to intervention than they have in the past and Congress isn’t leading the charge into Syria either. Both the public and lawmakers are divided, and many who oppose intervention are worried about history repeating itself. Slowly, painfully and at the cost of a few trillion dollars, the U.S. is learning not to start wars on a whim.
In March 2003, a Pew Research Center poll found that 72 percent of Americans thought the decision to use military force in Iraq was the right one. While views on intervention in Syria have been pretty evenly divided over the past few months, opposition to the proposed airstrikes has surged in the past few weeks to 62 percent. This isn’t to say that there wasn’t opposition to entering Iraq, but the numbers right now have flipped from what they were a decade ago.
54 percent of people surveyed in the same poll this week said that the president hasn’t explained the reasons for an air strike on Syria well enough, and more than 60 percent agreed that airstrikes were likely to make the situation worse in the Middle East and that the US had “no good options” for addressing the crisis. Among those favoring airstrikes, 92 percent said the US had an obligation the show proof of chemical weapons use. Contrast that with the 79 percent who said in a Gallup poll in May 2003 that the Iraq War was justified with or without evidence of WMDs, and it’s obvious that Iraq and Afghanistan have left a legacy.
This time around, the public is demanding substantial evidence to justify an attack, and the president will have a very hard time moving forward without offering any. Even those in support of intervention want details about any plan of action we might undertake, specifically how the operation would end.
Of course, the public isn’t going to decide whether or not we do end up taking action. Congress, which 10 years ago was even more in favor of war than the public, is backing off (not that they get to make the final decision either). As of Tuesday, 31 senators from both parties said they were against or were leaning against military action, while only 21, also a mixed group, had said they would support the measure. Only 26 House members have come out in favor of intervention. The other 407 members have said they would vote no, are leaning no or are undecided. Divisions on the issue run across party lines and ideologies.
The biggest difference between the handling of the two conflicts lies with the administrations. Obama’s address to the nation Tuesday night cemented the fact that this time around, it’s different. In just a few days we’ve gone from impending air strikes to international talks and disarmament. Cooperating with Russia and Syria to facilitate the surrender of Assad’s chemical weapons isn’t going to be easy, but even if it fails, it’s better than rushing off to war.
Despite how all of the most recent developments in the Syria crisis arose, they’re positive and show real progress. Even after saying it would strike, the administration was able to backtrack when a diplomatic option appeared. Instead of kicking UN inspectors out so we can invade on suspicions, as we did in 2003, we’re waiting for their conclusions on the chemical weapons incident. By putting the issue up for a vote in Congress (even a symbolic one), Obama slowed down the path to military action and has now asked for the vote to be called off to pursue these latest developments.
It’s not a complete turnaround, but our failures in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have knocked some sense into us. It’s a shame that it took us two failed wars to realize that a third might not turn out any better. There’s still a very good chance we’ll go into Syria after all, but it will be after a long dialogue and exhaustion of diplomatic options. The public doesn’t want to see the U.S. dragged into another unwinnable, unofficial war and Washington is starting to listen.