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US public opinion wavers on Libya

US public opinionBy Camille Elhassani

There's been mixed reaction to the operation in Libya by the American public. Prior to the mission, the Pew Research Center found that Americans were evenly divided over whether or not the US should enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.

Since then, the number of people who disapprove has risen. The US began flying sorties and launching missiles against Muammar Gaddafi's forces on March 19. Shortly after the operation began, Gallup found 47 per cent of those surveyed approved of US military involvement while 37 per cent disapproved. One in six people were unsure.

The most recent public opinion polls have found that more Americans now disapprove of US involvement in Libya. Earlier this week, Quinnipiac University completed a poll which found 47 per cent of registered voters oppose US involvement in Libya, compared to 41 per cent who support it.  But 62 per cent are optimistic that the mission will succeed.

In his most recent comments on Libya on Monday, President Barack Obama argued his case to the skeptical public, "To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are."

But during tough economic times, with the effort already costing $550-million and an estimated $40 million per month moving forward, the American public remains doubtful.  One thing the public is united on and agrees with the president is the decision not to send American troops into Libya. But while the White House says it's debating whether or not to arm the opposition forces, according to a Pew poll taken before the campaign began, the public overwhelmingly opposes it.

Many members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, are also skeptical, and particularly upset that Obama hasn't sought Congressional authorisation for the action in Libya. After receiving a briefing by the president's national security team on Thursday, Republican Congressman Dan Burton said, "Why haven't we made some plans before we went in there and who is going to pick up the tab for all this?" 

Some on the political left are also outraged. Dennis Kucinich, Democratic Congressman, spoke for 40 minutes on the House floor saying, "We are in a constitutional crisis because our chief executive has assumed for himself powers to wage war which are neither expressly defined nor implicit in the Constitution." It is clear some in Congress weren't placated by the administration's outreach efforts this week.

Despite the divided public and divided Congress on whether or not to support US actions in Libya, there hasn't been much backlash from the American public. They're focused on jobs and the economy, not the operation in Libya. And if the US mission continues to be one of support and assistance to NATO forces instead of unilateral action with a risk to American soldiers, the public may not be happy about what's going on, but they won't push back against the White House over it.

Camille Elhassani is Al Jazeera English's Senior White House Producer.

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