By Julian Pecquet - 03/05/12 10:00 AM EST
Most likely voters don’t think the United States should get involved in Syria despite the worsening crisis there, according to a new poll for The Hill.
More than half — 57 percent — of respondents say the Obama administration should “leave the situation alone,” while only 25 percent think the United States should “get more involved” in helping rebels in their fight against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Pulse Opinion Research poll of 1,000 likely voters was taken Thursday, just as rebels were retreating from a key center of resistance near Homs following weeks of shelling by government troops.
One-third of respondents in the latest poll think the administration’s policy vis-à-vis Israel is “about right,” while 32 percent think it isn’t supportive enough and 25 percent think it is “too supportive.”
In The Hill Poll last September, 33 percent also thought the administration’s policy was “about right,” but 38 percent thought it was “not supportive enough” and only 20 percent thought it was “too supportive.”
Obama is eager to improve his frosty relationship with the Israeli leader after Netanyahu’s May 2011 visit to Washington, when he spent much of his time shooting down the administration’s proposal for Palestinian statehood based on 1967 borders.
The administration needs a close partnership with Israel as the two nations weigh the best options to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear research is only for civilian purposes.
But Obama is also keen to shore up his support among Jewish voters ahead of the November election. He assured the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a speech Sunday that he had “Israel’s back,” but called for patience to let sanctions work on Iran.
Republicans are eager to capitalize on what they view as a foreign policy weakness for the president.
“In part because of how he has mishandled the Iranian threat, Obama has lost much political and financial support in the American Jewish community,” GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie advised the Republican presidential candidates in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine.
“His approach to Israel must be presented as similarly weak and untrustworthy,” they wrote. “The Republican candidate must make clear the existential threat to Israel from a nuclear-armed Iran — not only because it will lead to a better policy, but also because it will reduce the president’s support among this key voting bloc in the critical battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.”
Tellingly, their advice contains not one word about the current situation in Syria, despite the increasing violence there.
Brookings Institution scholar Shadi Hamid, who has called for the United States to weigh military options against the Assad regime, said the lack of support for a tougher stance is unsurprising.
“I think we’d have to see a much higher death toll for the American people to really get behind this,” said Hamid, who is the director of research at the Brooking Doha Center. “Unfortunately, the U.S. population seems to suffer from Middle East fatigue — and it seems quite frankly the Obama administration is suffering from Middle East fatigue ... I think if we had an Obama administration that was putting this more front and center, maybe that would affect the public perception.”
Hamid said the rebels were running out of time as Assad’s forces roll them back, but he held out hope that the international community — led by the United States — could yet come around, as it did in Libya within a matter of weeks last year.
Just a couple of months ago, Hamid pointed out, military options such as no-fly zones, protected safety areas and arming the rebels weren’t on the radar of foreign-policy types in Washington as they are now.
“I do feel a shift in the debate,” he said.
The Hill Poll also found that most Americans would rather Israel take the lead in attacking Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The poll found that 52 percent of respondents would be very (28 percent) or somewhat (24 percent) supportive of an Israeli strike, while 41 percent were very (19 percent) or somewhat (22 percent) opposed.
Fewer respondents favored a U.S. strike: Twenty-one percent were very supportive and 20 percent were somewhat supportive, while 32 percent were very opposed and 20 percent were somewhat opposed.
The Pulse Opinion Research poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 points.