Poll: 57% approve of Syria airstrikes, but few want more military action

So far, the American public is behind Donald Trump in his action against the Syrian military. As long as he doesn’t get the US any deeper into Syria, Trump’s likely to keep their support. According to a new poll from CBS News this morning, taken over the weekend, fifty-seven percent of respondents approve of the airstrikes, but less than one in five Americans want to see any escalation that would involve putting boots on the ground:

Fifty-seven percent of Americans approve of the airstrike against Syrian military targets – calling immoral the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons that led to the strike – but most are leery of any military involvement beyond airstrikes, a CBS News poll shows.

President Trump’s overall approval rating edged up, though most respondents voice unease about his approach to Syria going forward, and say Congress must authorize further actions there.

Few Americans are willing to see the U.S. get involved in Syria beyond the use of airstrikes. Only 18 percent would want ground troops. Half of Republicans would limit involvement to either airstrikes or diplomacy, and Democrats largely would focus on diplomatic efforts.

Voters may favor the airstrikes after the chemical-weapons attack on Idlib last week, but it hasn’t yet translated into a vote of full confidence in the commander-in-chief. A majority of voters call themselves uneasy about Trump’s ability to lead on Syria (41/54), and 69% want Trump to get Congressional approval before taking any further action at all. They seem to have accepted Trump’s claim that exigent circumstances and a need to act quickly made the first airstrikes acceptable, but now that the issue is obvious, they want Congress as a way to temper Trump’s range of action. That also includes a majority of Republicans, 53/39.

On those exigent circumstances and the claim that they represented a threat to the US, respondents split almost equally, 45/42 in Trump’s (slight) favor. Support for that position is more pronounced among Republicans, but it’s not total support either at 61/31. However, it’s worth noting that Democrats and independents also demonstrate a nuanced reaction to this question (39/47 and 41/45, respectively). Americans seem to have had the same response to seeing the atrocities as Trump — torn between action and perceived national (and partisan) interest. That tension will allow Trump some room to act further, but probably not a lot of room. The relatively lower pitch on Republican support should be a warning signal about going any further without getting an imprimatur from Congress first.

By the way, it’s not just on Syria where Trump has not yet earned trust from the electorate on foreign policy and conflicts. He gets almost exactly the same numbers on North Korea (39/56), a point to consider as the Navy sails toward the Korean peninsula. This might not be a bad time for an Oval Office speech outlining his goals in both theaters, a move that should help build confidence and perhaps get Congress to explicitly back his play in Syria, at least. Trump needs to be seen as presidential if he wants more support for his policies — especially given the whiplash between his campaign rhetoric on Syria and his policies now in office.

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