Daniel Doherty

No surprises here. While the vast majority of respondents support President Obama’s decision to pursue a diplomatic resolution in Syria in lieu of launching military strikes, most also agree that the arrangement between Washington and Damascus (i.e., that Assad will hand over his chemical weapons in exchange for avoiding a military conflict with the U.S.) is unlikely to happen:

As U.S. and Russian diplomats reached an agreement over the weekend to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, the public expresses support for a diplomatic approach to the crisis but is skeptical about its effectiveness.

By a 67% to 23% margin, the public approves of Barack Obama’s decision to delay military airstrikes and pursue a diplomatic effort to convince Syria to give up its chemical weapons.However, just 26% think Syria will give up control of its chemical weapons, while 57% think it will not.

More generally, the public has little trust in Syria. Just 8% say the United States can trust Syria a great deal or a fair amount, while 63% say Syria cannot be trusted at all and another 22% say it can’t be trusted much. The public is skeptical of Russia as well: just 24% say the United States can trust Russia even a fair amount, down from 33% last year.

The latest Pew Research Center survey was conducted Sept. 12-15 among 1,002 adults, as the United States and Russia concluded an agreement providing for inspection of Syria’s chemical weapons this fall, with destruction of the arms slated to begin next year. Because of the timing of the poll, it did not specifically ask about the U.S.-Russia agreement.

Reread this piece in the Wall Street Journal; Assad is reportedly already moving stockpiles of chemical weapons to as many as fifty different locations to prevent weapons inspectors from finding them. It seems impossible, then, that the United States would be able to find out where, exactly, these stockpiles are being hidden, let alone bring them under the watchful eye of the international community. Still, some are arguing that President Obama scored a major political victory here. How? By brokering what one journalist described as “the least bad outcome attainable,” given the circumstances. Others, of course, see this as a geopolitical defeat -- an olive branch arrangement that allows Assad to stay in power and Vladimir Putin to come across as a genuine peacemaker. Either way, it’s interesting to note that Secretary of State John Kerry’s approval ratings (for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me) are seemingly off-the-charts:

Sixty percent of Americans approve of the job John Kerry is doing as secretary of state, while 31% disapprove. His job approval rating eclipses those of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. …

These results are based on Gallup's Sept. 5-8 Governance poll, conducted in the midst of the U.S. debate over military action in Syria, but before the president's national address on Syria and Saturday's diplomatic agreement between the U.S. and Russia to secure Syria's chemical weapons.

Kerry's approval rating is 81% among Democrats, 55% among independents, and 36% among Republicans. His approval rating among Democrats is nearly identical to Obama's 80% from the same poll, but Obama's rating is much lower among independents (38%) and especially Republicans (9%).

Gallup has only infrequently measured job approval of secretaries of state, and did not ask a job approval question for Kerry's predecessor Hillary Clinton during her term. The data that are available show no clear pattern in how the secretary of state's approval rating compares with that of the president.

Most of the general public (and indeed a plurality of Republicans) seems to feel as if the State Department was doing something right during the ongoing Syrian crisis. Why else would Kerry’s approval ratings -- unlike, say, Obama’s and Biden’s -- be so high?


Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography