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Syria civil war: This week could be decisive for US involvement

Secretary of State John Kerry travels to Moscow to discuss international pressure on Syria, following Israel’s targeted airstrikes on Damascus over the weekend.

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Some members of Congress, including Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are calling for the US to establish a no-fly zone over parts of Syria to create havens for civilians and rebels.

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Virtually no one is calling for American boots on the ground. But even an intervention with no US soldiers ordered into Syria has only minimal support from Americans. And that presents Obama with a scenario he has sought to avoid: announcing to war-weary Americans yet another Middle East intervention.

A new Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll shows nearly two-thirds of Americans – 62 percent – oppose US intervention in Syria, with only a quarter in favor. Those results are in line with other recent polls gauging the US appetite for military intervention in Syria.

The Monitor poll, taken April 30-May 4 among 825 respondents, found that even solid evidence of the Assad regime using chemical weapons against its own people would not shift the balance in favor of US military action. In such a case, 48 percent of Americans said they would favor continuing humanitarian assistance to civilians and some “technological assistance” to the rebels.

But only 12 percent said chemical weapons would be cause enough for the US to help arm the rebels, while 13 percent said it should prompt the use of US air power in the conflict.

The average American’s reluctance to see the US intervene in Syria may have only been reinforced by events since the poll was taken. Both the Israeli airstrikes in Syria and reports Monday from a UN official of evidence that some rebels used the nerve agent sarin in their fighting should leave the US even more cautious, some say.

The rebels’ reported use of sarin “shows how little the [US] government really knows about what’s going on in this complex and bloody civil war, [and] it should make us extremely cautious about becoming involved militarily and reluctant about providing military support for the Syrian rebels,” says David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in Indiana.

Some pro-intervention voices in Washington jumped quickly on the Israeli airstrikes as further proof of resolute Israeli action in the face of an indecisive US administration. But others, like Mr. Cortright, say the Israeli action only further complicates a thicket the US should avoid.

“The Israeli attacks against Syria are a blatant violation of international law,” he says. “They increase the risk of the conflict spreading further in the region and should make us even more hesitant about becoming involved militarily.”


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