Scant US Public Support for Israeli Strike on Iran

Despite misinformation campaign and misleading polls, Americans don't seem to want another Middle East war

Only one in four Americans favors Israel conducting a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, according to a new poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. Nearly 70% of those polled favor the continued pursuit of US and other major powers to negotiate with Iran, a position that is supported by majorities of Republicans (58%), Democrats (79%) and Independents (67%).

"Meanwhile," reports Jim Lobe at Inter Press Service, "a second public opinion poll released Tuesday by the New York Times and CBS News found a slight majority (51 percent) of 1,009 respondents who said they would support the U.S. taking military action in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons." Thirty-six percent of respondents would oppose such a strike.

However, The NYT/CBS poll, notes Lobe, "did not offer an option for continued diplomacy or negotiations." And as Think Progress' Eli Clifton points out, this poll makes misleading assumptions about the existence of an Iran nuclear weapons program, by casually asking if the respondent would support "U.S. military action against Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon" even though no evidence exists that Iran has such a program. Clifton writes:

It is currently unknown whether Iran has a "nuclear weapons program" for Israel to stop. The IAEA has warned about a possible military dimension to Iran's nuclear program but neither the IAEA nor reports from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Defense have said that Iran has made the decision to build a bomb. Much like the Quinnipiac poll last November, the pollsters casually refer to Iran's "nuclear weapons program" when no conclusive proof of a weapons program has been produced. [...]

The question implicitly asks respondents to assume that military action against Iran would prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapon. But Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials are far from sharing that assumption. In a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, former Israeli Mossad Chief Meir Dagan explained that a military strike could, at best, only delay Iran's nuclear program. And Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking at a press conference last year, agreed that "bombing would at most delay that program or derail it up to two or three years at most."

But most importantly, the CBS/NYT poll results on Iran leave a false impression that a majority of Americans favor military action in dealing with Iran's nuclear program. But when other recent polls have presented options, respondents have favored diplomacy over war.

Juan Cole, at Informed Comment, argues the PIPA poll shows that "a broad consensus across parties, wants the Iran nuclear enrichment issue dealt with through negotiations. They even want to entrust the issue to the UN security council. They think that the US should discourage Israel from attacking Iran. They are convinced that an attack would be a disaster and lead to a long-term conflict. And they hold that if Israel goes it alone and does strike Iran, the United States should remain neutral."

And Lobe interviews Peter Ferenbach, an expert on foreign policy attitudes and co-founder of ReThink Media, an organisation works with non-profit groups.

"It's a welcome exploration of what Americans really think about Iran's nuclear programme, and, not surprisingly, people's responses are more nuanced when the issue is explored in depth," he told IPS, adding that the "policy debate has been ill-served by a long string of poorly designed polls on this critical issue."

"The phrasing of the Times/CBS poll - 'Do you favour using military action against Iran to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons?'," he went on, "has a built-in efficacy bias that presumes a military strike would end Iran's nuclear programme - a view held by virtually no one at the Pentagon."

If the PIPA poll is accurate, concludes Cole, it "shows the resistance of the US public to the barrage of propaganda they have faced on the Iran nuclear issue. They don't want a war, they don't want the Likud Party initiating one, and they don't want to get involved if Netanyahu goes off the reservation."


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