by Derek Davison
If Donald Trump succeeds in pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), he won’t just face opposition from Tehran or from America’s European allies: he’ll have to deal with opposition from the American people. That’s one takeaway from a new poll, “American Attitudes on Middle East Policies,” released by the Middle East Institute this week. The survey, conducted in June by the polling firm Ipsos, found that 30 percent of Americans strongly support and 45 percent somewhat support “the deal with Iran to limit their development of nuclear weapons.” That level of support was relatively consistent across gender, age ranges, geography, and income and education levels.
Americans are overall less enthusiastic about opening diplomatic channels between the U.S. and Iran, but a majority (54 percent) still supports the idea, against 32 percent opposed. Men, young people, and people with college degrees are more likely to support opening relations with Iran than women, older people, and those without college degrees.
The survey found most Americans (55 percent) opposed to Trump’s “position towards the Muslim world,” and it’s not hard to see why. Asked to agree or disagree with the statement “respecting the Muslim-American community in the U.S. is vital to prevent future terror attacks,” 68 percent agree, compared to 24 percent who disagree. Although Trump personally may or may not be to blame, there’s no doubt that his election has coincided with an increase in hostility toward the Muslim-American community. Additionally, 58 percent of Americans agree with the statement that “countries of the Muslim world are allies in the fight against terrorism.” With rare exceptions—Saudi Arabia and Egypt most prominently—Trump has not done much to strengthen U.S. relations with majority Muslim states.
Opposition to Trump’s Middle East policies may also have something to do with the fact that most Americans don’t think the war against the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) is going well. About 73 percent believe either that “the war with ISIS is basically a draw” (47 percent) or that “the U.S. and allies are losing the war with ISIS” (26 percent). This is certainly an interesting result given the steady stream of news about major IS defeats (in Mosul, Hawijah, Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and elsewhere) coming out of Iraq and Syria of late.
It’s not clear what has caused this level of pessimism, but it clearly hasn’t dampened Americans’ interest in continuing the anti-IS fight: 82 percent support “U.S. involvement in the fight to defeat ISIS.” Meanwhile, 75 percent agree either that “the U.S. has a responsibility to try to limit or end the conflicts in the Middle East” (25 percent) or that “the U.S. should stay engaged in the Middle East, but let them resolve their own conflicts” (50 percent). Only a quarter of Americans believe the U.S. “should get out of the Middle East.”
A plurality of Americans (48 percent) does agree with Trump’s policy toward (or rather, against) admitting refugees from the Middle East, against 43 percent who believe that the U.S. should admit more Middle Eastern refugees. According to the Pew Research Center, the share of the world’s refugee population accepted by the U.S. has dropped to its lowest level (0.2 percent) since at least 1980, far lower than its historical average of 0.6 percent. The Trump administration has asked Congress to reduce the ceiling for refugee admissions to the U.S. in future years as part of its overall immigration policy, at a time when refugees coming to the U.S. are increasingly likely to come from the Middle East or Africa.
The MEI poll included one other finding of note. Although a substantial majority of Americans (73 percent) support “America’s military backing of Israel,” a smaller majority (54 percent, with 32 percent opposed) believe that “the United States should push Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians for peace.” There’s no evidence that Israel is prepared to make concessions to the Palestinians, and nothing but some occasional rhetoric from the Trump administration suggests that this president has any interest in pushing Israel to do so.
Photo: Activists take part in a rally to commemorate the nuclear deal with Iran in front of the White House, on July 14, 2017 in Washington.