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In Syria, do Americans hear echoes of Vietnam and Iraq? (+video)

Polls consistently show most Americans oppose direct military involvement in the Syrian civil war. But that changes with the presumption that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons.

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“Polls have typically shown that as many as two-thirds of Americans oppose military action in Syria, even when questions that specify the aid come in the form of ‘weapons’ rather than more direct military intervention,” they write, citing polls by CBS/NYT, Gallup, NBC/WSJ, Fox News, and HuffPost/YouGov.

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For example, Gallup reported two weeks ago that “68 percent of Americans say the United States should not use military action in Syria to attempt to end the civil war there if diplomatic and economic efforts fail, while 24 percent would favor US military involvement.”

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey had just 15 percent of respondents favoring “military action to help stop the killing,” and even fewer (11 percent) agreeing that the US should “provide arms to the opposition.”

“The hesitation for US involvement in Syria closely matches twenty-five years of past data showing the reluctance Americans have about intervening between two conflicting factions within a foreign country, especially when there is no perceived threat to US national security,” writes Paul Donaldson of Public Opinion Strategies, a national Republican political and public affairs research firm. “Looking at other civil-wars/foreign conflicts, we see similar opposition to sending in our military.”

Is the Syrian regime’s “red line” use of nerve gas changing attitudes? Perhaps.

An April Pew Research survey found plurality support (45 to 31 percent) for military action, "if it is confirmed that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against anti-government groups," the HuffPost writers note. Similarly, a CNN/ORC survey in May found 68 percent thought military action justified "if the United States were able to present evidence that convinced you that the Syrian government has chemical weapons and has used them to kill civilians in that country."

Whether or not evidence of the use of nerve gas in Syria is “convincing” is an open question.

Writing on the New York Times FiveThirtyEight polling aggregation web site, Micah Cohen finds that when questions about US military involvement in Syria include the presumption that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, “support for intervention increased substantially.”

“According to an average of the three surveys in the PollingReport.com database that asked, 58 percent of adults said they would support military intervention if it were confirmed that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons either on antigovernment forces or on civilians,” Mr. Cohen writes.

That’s the tenuous political ground on which Obama stands as he decides the next US steps on Syria.

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