GOP presidential candidates and right-wing pundits are quick to push for military action against Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. But a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that the American public is largely in support of Obama’s diplomacy-first strategy towards Tehran and, by a sizable margin, opposes military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The poll finds that while 84 percent of Americans believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon — a conclusion that neither U.S. intelligence nor the IAEA have yet made — 53 percent of poll respondents oppose bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities “to try to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” Only 41 percent of respondents supported taking military action. When asked about Israel bombing Iran’s nuclear sites, respondents offered nearly identical responses with 51 percent opposing Israeli military action and 42 percent supporting.
Indeed the widespread opposition to military action appeared to be bolstered by a belief — held by 76 percent of respondents — that if Israel attacked Iran, it would “risk starting a larger war in the Middle East.” That opinion was shared by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week when she observed that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran at this time “is not in anyone’s interest.”
Former Israeli Mossad Chief Meir Dagan gave voice to similar views last month when he warned that bombing Iran would “ignite, at least from my point of view, a regional war” and that no military attack would be able to be able to permanently halt the Iranian nuclear project. The view that military action could only delay Iran’s nuclear program, and not stop it, is also shared by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and U.S. based military analysts.
While the Post’s poll shows general opposition to military action by the U.S. or Israel, the U.S. public support the sanctions regime and diplomacy pursued by the White House. Eighty-one-percent of respondents support “direct diplomacy talks between the United States and Iran to try to resolve the situation” and 64 percent think it’s a “better idea” to “see if economic sanctions against Iran work, even if that allows more time for is nuclear program to progress.”
Top U.S. officials and the IAEA agree that Iran is continuing to develop its nuclear capabilities and warn that some of their activities may have a military dimension. But the IAEA, U.S. and Israeli intelligence agree that Iran has yet made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon.
The Washington Post poll shows that Americans, by a large margin, are not yet ready to write-off diplomacy and non-military pressure to bring Iran to the neogotiating table. Last week, Panetta told the CBC that sanctions are proving effective at pressuring the Iranian government. “There is evidence that these sanctions are hurting, that it’s impacting on their economy, it’s impacting on their ability to govern themselves,” he said.
The new Post/ABC News poll results also match up with other recent polls on this issue. A poll released last month by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the University of Maryland showed Americans exhibiting strong support for the U.S. and its partners “continuing to pursue negotiations with Iran” while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on March 5 found that Americans prefer diplomacy over military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.