More than once over the last few days you will doubtless have read, as I have, that the vote in parliament not to support military action against Syria reflects the state of British public opinion. But if the results of a poll reported in yesterday's Sunday Times are to be believed, it isn't quite as simple as this might look. Rather, a majority of the British electorate are in favour of military action in Syria provided the burden of it doesn't fall on us. As follows (£ - scroll down):
It is not that we oppose all military action against Syria: it is Britain's participation that we reject, writes Peter Kellner.
If the United States decides to bomb Syria, most of us will cheer it on from the sidelines. YouGov's latest poll for The Sunday Times was conducted between Friday lunchtime and yesterday morning, after the news had been digested of the government's defeat in the House of Commons.
It finds that by more than four to one (68% against 16%) we think parliament took the right decision - an even wider margin than the two to one opposition to military action recorded before Thursday's debate.
Our latest figures show that this majority was driven by a fear of British troops being dragged into another quagmire in the Middle East, not a desire for the West to go soft on President Bashar al-Assad.
We asked people whether Britain should help America if President Barack Obama ordered an attack and requested our help. By huge majorities we want Britain to share intelligence information about Syria (by 70% to 15%) and to support America at the United Nations (by 64% to 16%).
By a smaller but still clear margin (48% to 31%), we would be happy to give access to Britain's military base in Cyprus to US forces attacking Syria.
The real lesson of the past week is that after Iraq, the bar for public support for war has been raised far higher.
British voters are wary of sending our troops into action without firm evidence of the need to do so and a cast-iron assurance that our soldiers won't end up dying in a distant land for no good reason.
It's a perfectly familiar impulse: 'Something should be done about this; I hope somebody or other will do it (but don't look at me).' It's a hope that the responsibility for taking some necessary action will be picked up by someone else.
And that hope is indeed a peril in the air right now. As the Times leader puts it this morning (£), 'the British vote against action last week did indeed betray a very European sort of complacency, born of the belief that others will solve the problems of our hemisphere'. Never mind European complacency, however. How is one to read President Obama's decision to delay an attack on Syria while seeking the approval of Congress. Perhaps it was no more than the 'virtuous choice to put democracy, debate and diplomacy before acts of war'. But what if instead of or as well as this it reflects a reluctance on Obama's own part to take responsibility for punishing the heinous crime against humanity perpetrated by the Assad regime, a desire to disperse that responsibility?
Should Congress fail to give its approval, is Obama then off the moral hook, so to speak? And who precisely will be taking responsibility for the obligation of the international community, professed at the Nuremberg trials and a thousand times since, to make tyrants answerable for grave crimes against humanity? Instead of the theme - much discredited already - of 'Never again', the danger now is of what Matthew d'Ancona refers to as a grubby carnival of inaction.