WASHINGTON -- Americans are losing patience with the international military action in Libya even as an overwhelming majority look positively on the Arab wellspring of democracy, according to a new poll.
The University of Maryland poll found support of the use of international military power to protect civilians in Libya has dropped 14 points to 54 percent in the weeks since a March CBS poll found 68 percent approved of the military use.
The survey, which billed itself as a look into the “American Public and the Arab Awakening,” was released to coincide with today's opening of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington.
The forum, which had previously met in Qatar, is the eighth annual gathering of leaders from more than 30 Muslim-majority countries and the United States. Brookings Institution founded the gathering in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to help build bridges between U.S. and Muslim leaders.
The poll comes at a pivotal time in U.S.-Islamic relations: winds of change are blowing from Tunisia to Yemen, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attack is approaching, and fighting between forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and rebel fighters has reached a stalemate.
When asked “if the air campaign does not succeed in protecting civilians from attacks by (Gaddafi’s) forces, would you support or oppose the U.S. and other countries providing arms to the Libyan rebels?” only 36 percent said they would support providing arms to rebels while 59 percent said they would oppose the support.
Amid rising concerns that al Qaeda may gain or enlarge its foothold in Libya, Yemen and elsewhere, only a small minority, 15 percent, said the popular uprisings in the Arab world are about Islamist groups seeking political power. Many more, 45 percent, said they are about ordinary people seeking freedom and democracy. Another 37 percent cited both equally.
Two-thirds of Americans say their government should take a neutral position in the uprisings. Among those who want the U.S. to take sides, though, an overwhelming majority favor siding with anti-government demonstrators.
The poll also revealed that:
* Optimism that democracy and Islam are compatible in the Middle East. Yet a significant minority, 41 percent, say they are not.
* A majority said it is possible for Muslim and Western cultures to find common ground and co-exist peacefully. A sizable 41 percent , however, said violent conflict is inevitable. A majority of Republicans, 52 percent, said violence was inevitable. Democrats and independents were more optimistic, with 68 percent and 59 percent, respectively, saying common ground can be found.
* A growing number believe there are more violent extremists within Islam “compared to other religions,” with a 62 percent majority voicing that view. When ABC News asked the question in February 2002, it found just 46 percent felt that way.
* The Arab spring has had little effect on American views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A solid two-thirds continue to have a favorable view of Israel even as a similar margin say the United States should lean toward neither Israel nor the Palestinians in its approach to resolving the conflict.
The poll of 802 Americans was conducted from April 1 to 5 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.