A Pew poll of US opinion has found that 48% of Americans oppose US military intervention in Syria's civil war while just 29% support intervention. Even among Republicans, who are considered more hardline, only 35% support while 40% oppose military intervention. While this will come as a relief to war opponents the world over, it will certainly rile the Obama administration given the degree of opinion-mobilisation activity that has taken place over the past weeks. The military-political credibility of the administration is on the line and Obama's (patently false) 'ditherer' image appears to be gaining ground again.
What is really worrying, however, are the grounds upon which, according to the Pew poll, the American public remains sceptical about another American war on a Middle eastern state: that any intervention is unlikely to be successful in stopping further chemical warfare and, secondly, that intervention is likely to lead to blowback against US interests.
Why should this be worrying? Pragmatically, of course, a sceptical public diminishes (though does not eliminate) the chances of large-scale US military aggression against Syria. This is an advance on the position prior to the Iraq War when the mendacious WMD argument gained traction and around 50-60% of Americans supported attacking Iraq. Nevertheless, once the WMD argument was destroyed by subsequent failure to find such weapons in Iraq, and the war there did not achieve 'victory', support in the US pretty much collapsed. Around two-thirds of Americans then believed the US war on Iraq to have been a costly mistake.
Worryingly, however, when things seemed to be going well for US military forces in Iraq - in the initial couple of months after the invasion - a Gallup poll concluded that 79% of Americans thought the Iraq War was justified, with or without conclusive evidence of illegal weapons.
Winning a war of aggression is fundamental to public support of it - losing one, or getting into a quagmire - loses public support rapidly.
And that's what so worrying about such a pragmatic calculation as lies behind the latest Pew poll: it belies a mindset among the US public that does not even question the right of the United States to intervene despite lack of UN support and in violation of international law. Syria is neither threatening nor planning military strikes on the US, yet the administration's and US public's positions are based on fundamentally shared assumptions - of the American right to intervene in the internal affairs of other sovereign nations.
In his excellent book (Imperial Delusions: American Militarism and Endless War), Carl Boggs argues that "U.S. leaders see themselves as uniquely entitled to carry out warfare and imperial agendas..." The power elite or military-industrial complex that remains so fundamental to US domestic and global power, Boggs suggests, has so infected the nation with imperial hubris, xenophobia, superpatriotism and militarism, that even mass public calculate the costs and benefits of military aggression in a manner identical to that of the masters of war at the Pentagon and White House.
According to C. Wright Mills, writing over 50 years ago, "the American elite does not have any real image of peace... The only seriously accepted plan for 'peace' is the fully loaded pistol. In short war or a high state of war preparedness is felt to be the normal and seemingly permanent condition of the U.S."
It would now appear we should add a militarised public to Mills's formulation.