John McLaughlin and Tony Fabrizio are founding partners of Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates, a firm specializing in strategic consulting and public opinion polling. They have done work for more than eight U.S. senators and twenty-four congressmen, as well as such organizations as the Republican National Committee, Empower America, and National Review.
The results of a special Election Day poll of 1,000 Americans who voted on November 8, 1994, show very strong public opposition to the stationing of U.S. troops on the Golan Heights.
The findings of four questions sponsored by the Middle East Quarterly and carried out by our polling firm demonstrate that American voters reject the use of American troops as peacekeepers on the Golan Heights. This suggests that a policy initiative by the Clinton administration that ignores American voter opinion is doomed to be extremely unpopular, very unreliable, and headed for failure. Such a failure could have grave consequences for the United States, Israel, and America's other allies in the Middle East. Placing American troops on the Golan Heights after an Israeli withdrawal is most likely to further erode Bill Clinton's standing among the voters; yes, the president could become even more unpopular than he now is.
All polls try to sample a representative cross-section of the population; an election-day survey of actual voters is truly the best gauge of voter opinion, for it includes only those citizens who choose to vote, and thereby shape public policy with their vote. The election results of November 8, 1994, have special importance because that election constituted a watershed in American electoral history.
Our survey was conducted via telephone as the polls closed across America. For this sample of one thousand voters, the accuracy is within plus or minus 3.1 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval.
Constructing a sample to reflect actual voter turnout, the poll showed that American voters more often disliked Bill Clinton than liked him, were almost three times more likely to be conservative than liberal, favored smaller government, preferred Dole for president over Clinton or Perot, and were broadly opposed to using American troops as peacekeepers on the Golan Heights.
1. ARE U.S. SOLDIERS A GOOD IDEA?
"As part of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, which will lead to a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Golan Heights, there is a plan to place American troops between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights. Do you favor or oppose this plan to put American soldiers on the Golan Heights?"
About two-thirds of the U.S. electorate, 64.3 percent, oppose a peace agreement between Israel and Syria that withdraws Israeli troops from the Golan Heights and places U.S. troops there.
The size and breadth of voter opposition to American peacekeepers on the Golan Heights speaks for itself. The majority of American voters opposed this policy in every geographic region, across every ideological segment; whether they voted for a Republican or Democrat for Congress; across the spectrum of major presidential choices for 1996--whether they support Clinton, Dole, Perot, or are undecided; across every major religious group; and opposition is very high among voters of the likely age for military service, between eighteen- and twenty-five-years-old.
Most disturbing to President Clinton, and certainly his political advisors, must be the fact that his core base of support among liberals and Democrats opposes the placing of U.S. peacekeepers on the Golan. At the same time, Clinton's opposition among Republicans, conservatives, and Perot voters is even greater. With a public opinion dynamic of this sort, a Golan Heights policy failure could prompt severe voter backlash against Bill Clinton and the Democrats.
2. RECALLING PREVIOUS AMERICAN EXPERIENCES
"Recalling previous American experiences with peacekeeping missions, would you be more or less likely to favor placing American troops on the Golan Heights?"
An almost identical majority of voters, 64.8 percent, is less likely to favor placing American troops on the Golan when they think back to previous American peacekeeping missions. Recalling these various missions seems to solidify the sizable majority opposition to peacekeeping on the Golan.
Again, the voting pattern is broad and extends across every voter segment. Of special concern for President Clinton must be the result showing that seeing the Golan mission in the context of previous missions increases voter opinion unfavorable to him. Among the four in ten voters favorable to Clinton, a majority opposes U.S. troops on the Golan. Even more distressing for the president is the result showing that among the almost half of the electorate, 47.2 percent, unfavorable to Clinton, an even larger share opposes U.S. troops on the Golan.
3. CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL
"Do you favor or oppose requiring President Clinton to obtain the approval of Congress before placing American troops on the Golan Heights?"
An overwhelming seven out of every ten voters would require President Clinton to obtain the approval of Congress before placing American troops on the Golan. This result makes clear that the American public does not have the confidence in President Clinton to make such an important foreign policy decision on his own. It sees Congress as an important check upon President Clinton's use of U.S. troops in this situation.
Voter support for congressional approval was even higher than the total number of voters who oppose putting troops on the Golan and, therefore, includes some who support using troops as peacekeepers. Requiring congressional approval receives even stronger majority support from Clinton's core voter support among liberals and Democrats, and near unanimous support from Clinton's conservative and Republican opponents. Advocating prior congressional approval would increase personal popularity for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. If he chooses to overlook Congress, naturally it will increase Bill Clinton's negatives.
Sending troops to the Golan without prior congressional approval could have catastrophic implications for public support for Clinton's foreign policy.
4. FIGHT OR WITHDRAW?
"If U.S. troops are placed on the Golan Heights, and fighting or terrorist attacks take place, should American soldiers be told to fight or should they be withdrawn?"
In the event of a fight or terrorist attack, public opinion is almost evenly split, with about four of ten voters, 41.0 percent, thinking American troops should fight, and an almost equal amount, 37.8 percent, favoring withdrawal. Among all voters, almost equal pluralities were divided as to whether to fight or withdraw in the case of fighting or terrorist attack. Voter opinion was split across all important segments. Jewish voters and men were more likely to favor fighting, while senior citizens and women were more likely to favor a withdrawal.
Such a split, without a majority of Americans in favor of either reaction, explains the real source of apprehension creating public opposition to peacekeeping forces on the Golan Heights.
There should be strong voter consensus for an appropriate response in time of conflict before U.S. troops are placed in such a potentially dangerous situation as between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights. In the absence of a consensus, hostile threats and possibly the loss of American lives are likely to stimulate questioning and opposition at home. In the event of hostilities on the Golan Heights, it is likely that President Clinton will only lose among American voters. If he fights, he loses among those voters who would withdraw; if he withdraws, he loses among those voters who would fight.
Such divided opinions among American voters make the placing of U.S. troops on the Golan Heights rather unreliable. Without strong majority support from the voters, the withdrawal of American peacekeepers--reminiscent of Lebanon and Somalia, or the vacillation in Bosnia--seems more likely than their long-term presence. Indeed, that American voters do not agree what to do if American peacekeepers are attacked signals a possible future disaster on the Golan Heights.
ISRAELI AND SYRIAN VIEWS
Voting Americans are not alone in voicing objections to the stationing of U.S. troops on the Golan Heights.1 Evidence from the Middle East suggests that the other parties involved, Israel and Syria, also do not relish the sight of armed Americans in that delicate piece of real estate.
A recent poll conducted for the Besa Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University shows that nearly 70 percent of the Israeli public opposes the stationing of American troops on the Golan Heights as part of a peace agreement with Syria. Even among the 23.2 percent that support full withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for peace, a mere 15.1 percent support the posting of U.S. soldiers there.2
The Syrian regime appears to agree. (Obviously, public opinion in that country cannot be openly measured; nor does it count as in a democracy.) When asked about a possible deployment of U.S. troops, Syria's ambassador to Washington, Walid al-Moualem, had this to say: "I have reservations on this point. We should act to normalize [Syrian] relations with the United States before we can examine the Israeli request [for the deployment of U.S. troops on the Golan]."3
In short, unless there is a dramatic change not only among American voters but among Israelis and Syrians as well, opposition to a peace agreement that puts U.S. troops on the Golan Heights is likely to remain strong and broad.
1 A subsequent survey on Jan. 2-3, 1995, showed that 58% of the public opposed the stationing of American military personnel on the Golan Heights and 35% favored such a step. See Frank Gaffney, "No Go on the Golan Heights?" The Washington Times, Jan. 10, 1995.
2 The Jerusalem Post, Dec. 6, 1994, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: Near East and South Asia, (hereafter, FBIS), Dec. 7, 1994.
3 Ha'aretz, Dec. 6, 1994, in FBIS, Dec. 7, 1994.