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Americans, Britons and the French Support Multilateral Action on Syria But Don't Want to Send Troops

August 27, 2012

Arabs Want Bashar al-Assad to Step Down, Sympathize With Rebels,
But Don't Want Outside Military Intervention

Digest of International Opinion on Violent Conflict
Public Opinion on Global Issues homepage
Stewart Patrick analysis

A new digest of polling data from multiple sources reveals that substantial numbers of Americans, Britons and the French support forms of multilateral action to address the situation in Syria. Majorities of Americans and Britons favor imposing a no-fly zone and half of the French favor a UN military intervention in the civil war. Americans favor the Arab League establishing safe havens, and half would support U.S. forces providing air cover to help protect them. While initially Americans have resisted the idea of arming the resistance, views are now divided. However, in the United States, France and Britain, there has not been majority support for contributing troops to intervene in Syria.

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Among Arab countries polled, overwhelming majorities say that President Bashar al-Assad should step down and that his regime is no longer viable. Large majorities in most countries are sympathetic to the rebels. However, except for Tunisians and to some extent Egyptians, Arabs show little support for tougher international sanctions or for Arab military intervention, and support for Western military intervention is very low.

These digests have been developed by the Council on Foreign Relations' International Institutions and Global Governance program and the Program on International Policy Attitudes, affiliated with the University of Maryland. They provide comprehensive analyses of international and U.S. polls on the world's most pressing challenges -- and the institutions designed to address them. The digest of international polling on violent conflict can be found here. Analysis of these findings by CFR's Stewart Patrick can be found on his blog.

Americans have favored multilateral economic sanctions; 63 percent in a poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (June 2012) and 71 percent in a poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (March 2012).

Americans and Britons have expressed support for a no-fly zone in Syria. Fifty-eight percent of Americans supported the United States and its allies enforcing a no fly zone (CCGA June 2012). Sixty percent of Britons supported "Britain and other allied countries...enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria so the Syrian air force cannot attack rebels or civilians"--a figure rising even higher with UN approval. (YouGov February 2012).

In France 51 percent favored "United Nations military intervention in Syria" while 49 percent were opposed (February 2012 IFOP/Atlantico).

Two thirds of Americans approved of the idea of the Arab League and Turkey establishing safe havens inside Syrian borders (PIPA, March 2012). However, views were divided about the prospect of using U.S. air power to protect them.

While initially majorities of Americans opposed providing arms and supplies to the opposition, views are now divided. In August 2012, CNN/ORC asked whether "the U.S. and other countries" should send "weapons and other military supplies to the opposition forces" and found the U.S. public divided, with 48 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed. In earlier months, though, clear majorities were opposed to supplying weapons and materiel.

Overall, there has been little support for the general proposition of committing ground troops to deal with the problem of Syria. Only minorities favored committing troops in various polls in the United States, Britain and France.

Polling conducted in the spring of 2012 showed unfavorable views of President Bashar al-Assad in the Arab world and Turkey, including strong support for him stepping down. In an April 2012 poll by Pew, majorities in all five countries polled were in favor of Assad stepping down. Majorities were overwhelming in Egypt (89 percent), Jordan (89 percent), and Tunisia (88 percent); very large in Turkey (67 percent), while modest in Lebanon (53 percent with 44 percent disagreeing). Similar majorities said they had an unfavorable view of Assad: 84 percent in Egypt, 90 percent in Jordan, 84 percent in Tunisia, 73 percent in Turkey and 59 percent in Lebanon.

In polling conducted as early as the fall of 2011, most Arabs polled had already come to the conclusion that the Assad regime was no longer viable. In a poll by the Arab American Institute Foundation (October 2011) that asked, "Do you believe that Bashar al Assad can still govern Syria?" large majorities thought this was not the case (Morocco, 85 percent; Egypt, 86 percent; Jordan, 90 percent; Saudi Arabia, 93 percent; U.A.E., 96 percent; and Lebanon, 99 percent).

Support for the rebels is strong or at least was in October 2011. At that time the Sadat Chair of the University of Maryland found large majorities saying that they were more sympathetic to "the rebels seeking government change" than the government, including 92 percent in Morocco, 87 percent in Egypt, 71 percent in the U.A.E., and 76 percent in Jordan. Among the Lebanese, though, views were divided.

Despite this opposition to Assad and support for the rebels, except for Tunisians and to some extent Egyptians, Arabs show little support for tougher international sanctions or for Arab military intervention, and support for Western intervention is very low. The Pew April 2012 poll asked those respondents who had already said Assad should step down about steps that other countries could take to intervene in the Syrian situation, "to put pressure on President Assad to step down."

•   The option of "tougher international economic sanctions" elicited majority support (of the full sample) in only one country--Tunisia (63%)--though half of Egyptians were supportive (49%). Less than half were supportive in Jordan (41 percent), Turkey (40 percent), and Lebanon (20 percent).

•   Asked next about "Arab states intervening militarily in Syria," approval was overall slightly lower: this option garnered the support of 62 percent of Tunisians, 47 percent of Egyptians, 37 percent of Jordanians, 29 percent of Turks, and 19 percent of Lebanese.

•   Support for Western countries intervening militarily received very low support, including among Tunisians (38 percent), Turks (23 percent), Egyptians (11 percent), Jordanians (10 percent), Lebanese (8 percent)


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