The Obama administration's argument for striking Syria has leaned heavily on its case that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been particularly vocal on this front. When the government released a report detailing its evidence that chemical weapons had been used, Kerry gave a speech with a long list of "we knows" and highlighted the report's "verdict" — that the Assad regime had indeed used chemical weapons — as being both "clear" and "compelling."
It may be clear to most Americans. But it doesn't seem to be compelling. A CNN poll released today finds that eight of 10 Americans think that the Assad regime did in fact use chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.
But 71 percent say they don't think President Obama should order strikes in Syria with no approval resolution from Congress. And even with an approval resolution from Congress, a majority — 55 percent — want to avoid military action.
It's not the evidence of chemical weapons use that the public is unconvinced by. It's the case that American interests would be served by going to war. As CNN reports, "More than seven in 10 say such a strike would not achieve significant goals for the U.S. and a similar amount say it's not in the national interest for the U.S. to get involved in Syria's bloody two-year-long civil war."
And at least some of them say they are prepared to hold their congressional representatives accountable on the issue. Although a 57 percent majority said the vote would make no difference in how they voted for their current representative, 31 percent said a vote to strike would make them more likely to vote against their current congress critter — while just 11 percent said it would make them more likely to vote in favor. That means the energy is against the strikes. And legislators are more likely to lose than gain by supporting an attack against Syria.
Tomorrow night, President Obama will attempt to sway a skeptical public in a prime-time address outline the administration's case for action. What these poll numbers show is that it won't be enough to simply assert that chemical weapons were used in Syria. He'll also have to explain why the U.S. has a compelling national interest in a military response. So far, he hasn't successfully made that case — perhaps because there isn't one to be made.