Poll: Majority oppose Obama decision to arm Syrian rebel groups

The vast majority of Americans oppose President Obama's decision to arm the Syrian opposition, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

Twenty percent of respondents favored having the United States and its allies arm the rebels, with 70 percent opposed. Those opposed said the U.S. military was already “overcommitted” (68 percent) and raised concerns that the rebel factions could be no better than Syrian President Bashar Assad's government (60 percent) to explain their reticence.

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The public's opposition to increased involvement in Syria's civil war runs across party lines, with 74 percent of independents, 71 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of Democrats opposed to Obama's new policy.

The poll comes after the White House announced Thursday that it would provide “military assistance” — largely understood to mean light weapons — to vetted rebel groups after concluding that Assad's forces crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons.

The administration hopes the decision will help reverse recent gains on the ground by Assad's forces and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies and pressure the regime ahead of talks in Geneva.

The issue has similarly divided Congress with libertarian and anti-Islamist Republicans joining anti-war Democrats in opposing the policy. Others though have called for even greater aid to the rebel groups, with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) pressing for a no-fly zone.

Obama has long struggled with his Syria policy as the bloodshed has steadily increased in the two-year civil war. A United Nations report last week said the death toll was nearing 100,000.

The poll suggests that while most Americans aren't following the conflict very closely — only 15 percent said they did — they likewise aren't taking the issue lightly, with 53 percent agreeing that it's “important” for the United States to support people opposing authoritarian regimes and 49 percent saying the country has a “moral obligation to do what it can to stop the violence.”

The poll of 1,512 adults was conducted Wednesday through Saturday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

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