During this year's Republican primary, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum have all suggested
that they would use military force if necessary to dismantle Iran's
nuclear program. And tensions between Washington and Tehran have only
increased as speculation swirls about an imminent Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, Iranian officials trumpet their nuclear advances, and mysterious bombings appear to target Israeli diplomats in Georgia, India, and Thailand.
But how does the American public view the situation in Iran? New polling from the Pew Research Center
this morning suggests that Americans are in a rather bellicose mood
when it comes to confronting Iran, and pessimistic about the power of
sanctions to keep Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
In the survey, 58 percent of respondents said it was more important
to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if that meant
taking military action. Only 30 percent preferred avoiding a military
conflict even if it meant Iran going nuclear. Republicans (74 percent)
were far more supportive of using military force than Democrats (50
percent), but Democratic backing was still substantial.
Around half of Americans, meanwhile, believe the United States
should remain neutral if Israel strikes Iran. But, as Pew points out,
more respondents said the United States should support (39 percent)
Israel than oppose (5 percent) it. A majority of Republicans think the
United States should back Israel while a majority of Democrats think it
should stay neutral.
Pew notes that there are nuances in the data as well. Women and
young people, for example, are more likely to support the United States
staying neutral in an Israeli-Iranian conflict. And, not surprisingly,
conservative Republicans, including Tea Party supporters, are more
likely to champion American support of Israeli military action than
moderate or liberal Republicans.
Where there's more agreement across the aisle is in the belief that
tough economic sanctions -- a tactic the Obama administration continues
to pursue -- will be ineffective in persuading Iran to abandon its
nuclear program. Sixty-four percent of the public thinks these measures
will not work, compared with 56 percent in October 2009.
Of course, supporting military force if it means preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons (in other words, approving of it as a last resort) isn't the same as a full-throated endorsement of the military option. In a Quinnipiac University poll in November, 36 percent of respondents supported the use of force in any case, while an additional 14 percent backed the option if sanctions failed. In a CNN/ORC survey around the same time, more than six in 10 respondents selected "economic and diplomatic efforts" -- not "military action right now" -- as the best U.S. policy toward Iran's nuclear program.
If Americans are so down on economic sanctions as an effective solution, however, one wonders whether they're beginning to resign themselves to a military conflict, even if they have little appetite for it.
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