Questions about U.S. and Israeli policy towards Iran are leading the agenda at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference in Washington this week. But while hawks on Capitol Hill and GOP presidential contenders are quick to engage in calls for military action against Iran, the American public doesn’t seem to be convinced that such action is necessary or prudent.
A new poll [PDF] by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal finds that — in a hypothetical situation in which Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon — Americans favor military action over inaction by a majority of 52 percent to 40 percent when asked to choose between the two options. Since December, the percentage of Americans in favor of military action has dropped from 54 percent to 52 percent.
But when presented with a range of policy options to choose from if Iran “is close to developing a nuclear weapon,” the results are somewhat different: more Americans favor diplomacy and sanctions over military action. A total of 49 percent said the U.S. should either “take no action unless Iran attacks the U.S. or its allies” (17 percent) or “take stronger diplomatic and economic action to put pressure on Iran but should take no military action” (32 percent).
By contrast, 47 percent supported some type of military action but only 21 percent said the U.S. should “take direct military action to destroy Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon” (top U.S. officials have questioned whether an attack would “destroy” Iran’s ability to develop a weapon). And 26 percent said the U.S. should not take military action but should support an Israeli attack.
The poll’s results appear to show that American public opinion is increasingly uncomfortable with the possibility of military action against Iran and supports the White House’s efforts to deter Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon through diplomacy and sanctions.
While the IAEA has expressed serious concerns about a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. military and intelligence officials have echoed the IAEA’s findings that Iran has not yet restarted its nuclear weapons program. Both Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey have expressed confidence in the U.S. strategy of diplomacy and sanctions. But while Congressional hawks and GOP presidential candidates are eager to paint the Obama administration’s strategy as insufficiently aggressive, the NBC and WSJ poll shows that the American public isn’t ready to give up on a diplomatic strategy just yet.