Americans on Middle East turmoil: Keep us out of it
December 14th, 2012
12:31 PM ET

Americans on Middle East turmoil: Keep us out of it

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

The pace of change in the Middle East – in Syria, Egypt, Palestine and Israel – is accelerating as 2012 draws to a close. And the centripetal force generated by these developments threatens to draw the United States ever deeper into the region. But as the Obama administration considers what role the United States can and should play there in the months ahead, the White House faces a political dilemma at home. The American people are not paying attention and are deeply skeptical of greater U.S. engagement in a corner of the world that looks increasingly unstable.

The spreading turmoil in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring has soured American attitudes toward the region’s prospects and has not increased Americans’ appetites for greater U.S. involvement there.

In April 2011, not long after the fall of the autocratic Tunisian and Egyptian governments, the American public was divided over whether such changes in political leadership would lead to lasting improvements for people living in those countries, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

By October 2012 a majority (57 percent) were convinced that the Arab Spring would not lead to a long-term change for the better. Possibly disillusioned with what they had seen transpire in Cairo, Tunis and elsewhere, just over half of Americans preferred stable governments in the region, even if that meant less democracy (so much for president Obama’s May 2011 commitment “to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.”). And almost two-thirds thought Washington should be less involved in leadership changes in the Middle East.

More from CNN: How Middle East has changed

The civil war in Syria has claimed tens of thousands of lives, the conflict appears to be worsening and there is growing concern in official circles in Washington that the Syrian government may use chemical weapons against its own people. But less than half the American public is paying much attention. Only 38 percent said they were following the political violence in Syria closely in early December, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

This may help explain why recent polls show that the American public has no appetite for U.S. intervention in that war-torn country. More than three-in-five Americans say the United States does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria, according to an early December Pew Research Center survey. And 65 percent oppose arming anti-government rebels in Syria. Such sentiments remain unchanged since the Spring of 2012. Notably, there is no partisan difference on aiding the foes of the Assad regime.

And even the recent fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza has not roused much American interest. Only 49 percent of the U.S. public were closely following news of renewed violence between Israel and Palestine in mid-November. And an early October Pew survey found only a quarter of Americans wanted to increase support for Israel.

But Americans’ sentiments still lie with the Israelis. Half say they sympathize with Israel, only 10 percent sympathize more with the Palestinians.

Yet partisan politics could complicate future American action with regard to Israel in its dealings with the Palestinians. Only 33 percent of liberal Democrats sympathize with Israel more than the Palestinians, while 75 percent of conservative Republicans side with Israel.

Events on the ground in the Middle East may soon force decisions in Washington about a new degree of American engagement in the region. Whatever the Obama administration decides, the public’s views are clear. They would prefer to sit this one out.


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Topics: Middle East • United States

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Doc

    KEEP US OUT OF IT! The entire region and the rest of the world would be better off it we had stayed out.

    December 14, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, Doc. I couldn't have said it better. We have absolutely no business over there, none at all!

      December 14, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        There's a saying: Once bitten, twice shy. This pensiveness is comprehensible. The American public has not forgotten the blood and treasure ill-spent in Vietnam Iraq and Afghanistan.

        December 16, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Thinker23

      It's unfortunate but as long as you hare the same planet with the Middle East you (or, rather, your country) will have business over there.

      December 15, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
      • Amit-Atlanta-USA

        Come on Thinker23, you know that we have no business interfering over there. How would you like it if one of these countries manipulated our presidential elections over here? I think not.

        December 15, 2012 at 10:25 am |
      • Thinker23

        Unlike you I KNOW that some Muslim leaders consider our very existence to be "interference". Unlike you I KNOW that their religion glrofies death and mass murder on non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Unlike you I KNOW that ignoring someone trying to kill you will not make him disappear. Unlike you I KNOW that running away from the enemy will bring the enemy to yhour own back yard.

        December 16, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • ikeBrazil

      I guess not. You should be good trade partners, and not simply absent. But it seems that you are still dreaming that you are playing the Cold War... The Cold War is over!! Welcome to the globalized world of 2013!!

      December 16, 2012 at 4:39 am | Reply
      • ikeBrazil

        That´s why China and India will overcome USA sooner than you can imagine... And you´ll be still acting as you were in 1964... "Cuba"!! "Burn all red"!! "Pigs Socialists" etc etc etc... For the sake of God, we are in 2013!!

        December 16, 2012 at 4:44 am |
    • Canuck4Israel

      Israel apppreciate your support, with or without your help we will continue to kick the Muslin's world rear end, until we get all our land back which includes part of Saudi Arabia,Syria,Iraq, and yes the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is our promised land, the Jews are back in Judea to stay. When we arrived in 1948 it was a desolate land, today it's one of the greenest and most prosperous place on earth.

      December 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Reply
    • Some Random Guy

      Almost certainly not true. But we may well have been, which is really what matters.

      December 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  2. sweetteafrontporchswing

    Yes, allow the Middle East to work out their issues on their own, but no matter what stand beside Israel...That's been our promise to them all along. We should keep it.

    December 14, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  3. Chris

    I don't think we should be intervening either, but supporting Israel blindly IS intervening. As a nation we are mourning the loss of 20 children in Connecticut, but we turn a blind eye when our bombs (dropped from our planes or Israel's) kill children in Pakistan, Iraq, or Gaza. We either stand for justice and liberty for all, or we don't. It can't be just for Americans and inhabitants of democratically-elected nations. We have to stand up for ALL. We needn't resort to gunboat diplomacy to accomplish this, but I'm sure we have some pull with the IMF and the World Bank, not to mention our foreign aid program. People who live in countries where we support despots are know of the hypocrisy that is U.S. foreign policy. Support for Israel's persecution and dehumanization of the Palestinian people only destabilizes regional security and erodes support for any American policy. If you gave your kids money for college and they spent it on cocaine, you might not give them any more money. We fund and arm Israel. Israel kills Palestinians with a 4-1 casualty ratio. We continue to send foreign aid. We fund the killing of Palestinians. This makes Arabs mad. We should stop doing this. Source:

    December 15, 2012 at 1:08 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Without the US support the Arab states and Iran will try to destroy Israel again as they've done in 1948, 1967 and 1973 leaving Israel no other option but to defend itself. The resulting (possibly, nuclear) war will cause hundreds of thousands or even millions of casualties the vast majority of whom will be Muslims. WHO will be blamed for these millions of dead Muslims, in your opinion?

      In addition, a large scale war in the Middle East will possibly turn the largest oil fields on the planet into radioactive wasteland throwing the world economy into a crisis of epic proportions and effectively ending our civilization as we know it. Are you sure that THIS is what you want?

      December 16, 2012 at 7:33 am | Reply
    • Some Random Guy

      There is nothing "blind" about the US support for Israel. Just like there was nothing "blind" about the "lend-lease act" that allowed the US to support the UK, USSR, France and China during the early part of WW2.

      First, it was morally right to support those opposing the evil of groups like the NAZIs, PLO, HAMAS and the like.
      Second, it's in our strategic interest to keep our friends/allies/"enemy of my enemy" as capable as possible.

      And FYI you people really need to find a better argument than comparing casualty rates. That more of our enemies are dying than our allies isn't something that carries a lot of weight.

      December 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  4. ikeBrazil

    USA is far away of the Middle East, and I wonder: what are you doing there? Considering that the relations between USA and its continental neighbours are pratically inexistent (to the point that you badly know who are your neighbours), AND considering that China, Russia and India have dominated the commercial trends in Latin America, from Mexico to Patagonia, I really don´t understand your values and interests.

    December 16, 2012 at 4:30 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      If you don't understand - ask! The US government just like any other government has priorities. Obviously, the priorities of the US government are with the Middle East and its oil, with China and India and its production facitilies and only then with the Latin America and its narcotics.

      December 16, 2012 at 7:37 am | Reply

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  6. Lex

    Now if only Obama,a will do what is right rather than follow public opinion. Its time for revolution in Iran.

    December 16, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
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