A Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday will be disappointing news for those hoping for a new era of Jeffersonian restraint in American foreign policy—and it will frustrate Wilsonians as well. Those polled don’t want U.S. troops in humanitarian shooting wars but would favor a no-fly zone in Syria and are ready for war if Assad uses chemical weapons or seems to be losing control of them. If Syria threatens a neighbor, more than two-thirds of respondents are ready for war.
The respondents showed little enthusiasm for the Arab Spring. All along most Americans have thought the unrest would be bad for U.S. interests. Americans are also skeptical of the Syrian opposition: fewer than a third of voters support the Obama administration’s recognition of the rebels.
The poll suggests that, when it comes to the Middle East, American public opinion remains dominated by Jacksonian ideas. There is little support for “world order building” and democracy promotion but a strong concern about potential security threats to the U.S. or, especially, Israel as well as other allies. Because of those security fears, the public is ready for battle if a clear threat emerges, and it is unwilling to ignore or walk away from the region.