As Abraham Lincoln said in his timeless quote, "In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed."
Keeping that profound quote in mind, President Barack Obama's proposed strategy of intervening in the Syrian conflict could be one of the biggest public policy mistakes a president has made in U.S. history.
America is now a war weary country with no appetite for conflict in a foreign land, particularly the Middle East. Haven't we learned our lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan?
An attack on Syria could be unlike anything that has come before – an intervention inside the territory of a sovereign country without its consent, without a self-defense rationale, without Congressional or United Nations authorization, or the full participation of NATO.
What has happened to our Democratic principles centered around public opinion?
According to a new Gallup survey, taking military action against the Syrian government for its suspected use of chemical weapons would be among the lowest of any intervention Gallup has asked about in the past 20 years.
The poll showed only 36% of Americans favor military action. The majority -- 51% -- oppose such action, while 13% are unsure. By contrast, in 2003, 59% of Americans favored intervention in Iraq.
Another poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found just 29% of Americans supported intervention. This reflects the nation's disdain for continued involvement in this volatile part of the world.
As Congress weighs whether to authorize the President's plan for airstrikes, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have begun to identify the biggest obstacle of all: their constituents.
"What I'm hearing back home is about 100% no," said Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH). Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), said, "My phone calls, emails, and faxes are running 96% no. I've never encountered an issue where you had 96% agreement…our phones are ringing off the wall."
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida) told reporters last week, "The House doesn't want it, the American people don't want it. People here (in the House) listen to their constituents."
Oddly enough, even the President himself recognizes that Americans are "war weary." Obama said, "There is a certain weariness, given Afghanistan. There is a certain suspicion of any military action post-Iraq."
Despite what Americans think, Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry remain on the offensive, trading jabs with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Obama is even conducting an unprecedented six network interviews on the eve of a speech to Americans. Meanwhile, Congress will be back in session and will deal with what is clearly one of the most complex foreign policy matters to ever come before it.
As the rhetoric intensified, Kerry issued another strong challenge to Assad to turn over his chemical weapon stockpile to avoid a US-led attack. Not to be outdone, Assad granted an interview to CBS News and issued a warning of his own, saying the United States should "expect every action" if it attacks Syria.
The use of chemical weapons on its own people is an outrageous act by a repressive regime. Surely, no sane person would condone killing 1,400 people with gas, among them 426 children.
With the Iraq war behind it and military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, the US needs to move to a diplomatic stance where it is no longer the world's conscience or policemen.
In my view, the president may have put himself in an untenable position. He may be making the mistake of being arrogant and presumptive in assuming the country will blindly follow him into yet another overseas military action. Clearly, his legacy as our commander-in-chief is in question.
What the president should do is listen to the people he represents, build public support for that position and then develop public policy.
No one said it better than Abraham Lincoln.
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Richard E. Nicolazzo is managing partner of Nicolazzo & Associates, a strategic communications and crisis management firm headquartered in Boston, Mass.
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