Passport

Would Americans stomach a war in Syria?

As President Barack Obama mulls what to do about evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own citizens, two new polls gauging Americans' attitudes toward intervention won't make his decision any easier.

A Pew survey released yesterday showed lukewarm American support for intervention. Asked their opinion of the United States taking military action against the Syrian regime if it was proved Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, 45 percent of respondents said they were in favor, while 31 percent said they were opposed. In a reflection of the U.S. public's ambivalence on this issue, the remainder -- almost one-quarter of all respondents -- said they didn't know.

A New York Times/CBS poll released today, meanwhile, finds that 62 percent of Americans do not believe the United States has a "responsibility" to intervene in Syria. The New York Times, in its article on the poll, used that finding to make the case that "the public does not support direct military action" in Syria now.

Not so fast. Pew also asked in March whether the United States has a responsibility to intervene in Syria, and 64 percent of respondents said no. It's possible for Americans to reject the idea that the United States has a "responsibility" to act as the world's police, and nevertheless support intervention in Syria under certain circumstances.

The two polls are clear on one thing: Syria is not a priority for Americans. Only 18 percent of those surveyed in the Pew poll said they were following the news from Syria very closely -- a figure that dipped to 10 percent in the New York Times/CBS poll.

So where does that leave Obama as he prepares to defend his red line? If he has incontrovertible proof of Assad's chemical weapons use, there is reason to believe he could initially cobble together a majority in favor of intervention. But given Americans' relative apathy toward the conflict, there is also reason to believe that they would sour on the conflict if it dragged on or incurred significant costs. What the president needs is a quick, low-cost intervention that would allow the United States to take a backseat to other international partners. Whether that's a realistic possibility, given the reality in Syria, is very much an open question.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Passport

Is Iran about to seal itself off from the Internet?

With its "national information network" nearing completion, Iran may soon be able to seal itself off from the World Wide Web. The ambitious project to create a second, Halal Internet -- launched eight years ago at the beginning of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first term -- is already up and running in government ministries and state bodies, where it shields users from what Iranian Minister of Communication and Information Technology Reza Taqipour has called "untrustworthy" material controlled by the "hands of one or two specific countries" (presumably, Israel and the United States).  Now, it could be on its way to households and Internet cafes across the country. The BBC reports:

For months now, Iranian social media sites have been full of postings about slow download speeds and intermittent access...

While some put the blame on the country's overloaded and outdated internet infrastructure, others have a more sinister explanation for what is going on.

'When we get old we'll be able to tell our grandchildren about the time when a demon came along and nationalised the internet,' wrote Habil, an angry internet user from Tehran.

What Habil was referring to was the Iranian government's plan to create what it is calling a 'national information network' -- in effect a sort of corporate intranet system for the whole country.

The Wall Street Journal has more on why the regime is following in the footsteps of Cuba and North Korea:

"The leadership in Iran sees the project as a way to end the fight for control of the Internet, according to observers of Iranian policy inside and outside the country. Iran, already among the most sophisticated nations in online censoring, also promotes its national Internet as a cost-saving measure for consumers and as a way to uphold Islamic moral codes...

The unusual initiative appears part of a broader effort to confront what the regime now considers a major threat: an online invasion of Western ideas, culture and influence, primarily originating from the U.S. In recent speeches, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top officials have called this emerging conflict the "soft war."

No doubt, the 2009 post-election protests, which were at least partly enabled by Internet communication, are also on the supreme leader's mind heading into this year's electoral contest. That said, officials seem to be doing their best to sell the regime's story: Over the weekend, the news website YJC quoted one Internet police official as saying that Facebook, a "dangerous and disgusting spy tool," is responsible for a third of all divorces in Iran.

AFP/Getty Images