WASHINGTON : A broad majority of Americans, exhausted by nearly a dozen years of war and fearful of tripping into another one, are opposed to a military strike on Syria, even though most say they think Syrian forces used chemical weapons against civilians, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
Those findings illustrate the depth of the challenge facing President Obama as he tries to win support for a limited strike from a deeply reluctant Congress and an American public that has become steadily more skeptical of foreign engagement.
Mr. Obama’s task was further complicated on Monday by a Russian proposal that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria give up his chemical weapons — a plan that muddies the president’s case for military action.
The poll underscores a steady shift in public opinion about the proper American role in the world, as fatigue from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has made people less open to intervening in the world’s trouble spots and more preoccupied with economic travails at home.
In the Syrian crisis, 6 in 10 Americans oppose airstrikes, according to the poll, with similar majorities saying they fear military action could enmesh the United States in another long engagement in the Middle East and would increase the terrorist threat to Americans.
But the antipathy to foreign engagement extends beyond the current crisis. Sixty-two percent of the people polled said the United States should not take a leading role in trying to solve foreign conflicts, while only 34 percent said it should. In April 2003, a month after American troops marched into Iraq, 48 percent favored a leading role, while 43 percent opposed it.
When asked whether the United States should intervene to turn dictatorships into democracies, 72 percent said no while only 15 percent said yes. That is the highest level of opposition in a decade of polling on this question. At the start of the Iraq war, 48 percent favored staying out and 29 percent favored getting involved.
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