Americans Have Lost Confidence In President Obama On Foreign Policy
The evidence is clear. When it comes to the ability to handle foreign crises, the President has lost the public's confidence.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds the American public largely dissatisfied with the way President Obama is handling the situation in Iraq:
President Obama receives his worst marks yet for handling the situation in Iraq, with 52 percent disapproving and strong negative sentiment now outpacing strong approval by 2 to 1 (34 to 17 percent) in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Asked whether the U.S. should launch air strikes against Sunni insurgents, 45 percent support and 46 percent oppose that idea. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans support air strikes, compared with 44 percent among Democrats and 41 percent of independents. The gap between men and women is just as large and extends across party lines. Men support air strikes by a 54 to 40 percent margin, while women oppose them by 52 to 38 percent.
Nearly two-thirds of the public, however, opposes sending U.S. ground forces to combat insurgents, including at least six in 10 Democrats, Republicans and independents. No demographic or political group in the poll expresses majority support for deploying ground troops, while opposition surges to above 70 percent among those over age 50 and post-graduates.
For the first time in Post-ABC polls disapproval of Obama for handling Iraq outpaces approval, 52 to 42 percent. His ratings tilted positive the last time Iraq approval was asked in September 2010 – 49 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving, with nearly one-third of Republicans giving him positive marks (31 percent). But Republican support has plummeted to 13 percent in the new poll while independents have also shifted negatively, with the share approving of his Iraq efforts dipping from 49 to 40 percent. Democrats have been more consistent in approval of Obama, though their level of support fails to match Republicans’ opposition.
These numbers aren’t too dissimilar from those in the New York Times/CBS Poll that I wrote about yesterday, and some additional numbers form that poll drive home the point that the American public is basically fed up with the situation in Iraq and with the President’s foreign policy:
Dissatisfaction with President Obama’s conduct of foreign policy has shot up among both Republicans and Democrats in the past month, even though a slim majority supports his recent decision to send military advisers to Iraq to confront the growing threat from militants there, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
The survey suggests that most Americans back some of Mr. Obama’s approaches to the crisis in Iraq, including majority support for the possibility of drone strikes. But the poll documents an increasing lack of faith in the president and his leadership, and shows deep concern that further intervention by the United States in Iraq could lead to another long and costly involvement there.
The poll found that 58 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Mr. Obama is handling foreign policy, a jump of 10 points in the last month to the highest level since Mr. Obama took office in 2009. The spike in disapproval is especially striking among Democrats, nearly a third of whom said they did not approve of his handling of foreign policy.
Fifty-two percent of Americans say they disapprove of how the president is dealing with the current violence in Iraq (including about a third of Democrats); 37 percent approve.
Although the survey suggests that Mr. Obama’s small steps toward military action in Iraq are in line with those of many Americans, it also indicates that people may still yearn for their commander in chief to manage foreign crises, even when the solutions are not obvious to them. A large majority thinks that the United States has important interests in Iraq’s future. Two-thirds said Mr. Obama had not done enough to explain American goals in the country.
Mr. Obama built his 2008 presidential campaign in part on opposing George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, and the departure of all troops in 2011 for a time appeared to close a searing chapter in American life. The latest questions about a new United States involvement there threatens to reopen old wounds.
“We didn’t finish up the job in Vietnam, and we didn’t finish up the first time in Iraq or the second time in Iraq,” said Phil Clark, 62, a Democrat and retired nurse from Santee, Calif. “I have a lot of animosity toward Bush because of those actions. I just see it all happening again.”
Also, three-fourths of those surveyed said the war was not worth the American lives lost and other costs of attacking Iraq, a record level of regret about a conflict that lasted nearly nine years.
Mr. Obama’s declaration in recent weeks that he will not send ground troops back into Iraq mirrors the views of a wide majority of Americans. But after a decade of war, a substantial number — 42 percent — said the United States still had a responsibility to do something about the violence in Iraq.
And yet, the poll showed that the country is divided about how to meet it. Republicans tend to favor more aggressive action: Fifty-four percent of Republicans support using manned aircraft to carry out targeted attacks in Iraq, while only 38 percent of Democrats favor such action. Nearly 70 percent of Republicans said they would support the use of drones in Iraq, compared with 55 percent for Democrats.
This isn’t the first indication we’ve gotten of public dissatisfaction with the President on foreign policy, of course. Just last week we saw an NBC News poll that showed that Americans were not only giving the President negative approval numbers on foreign policy, but that they had also lost confidence in his ability to lead. Prior to that, other polling showed that the negative public reaction to foreign policy crises and the President’s handling of the same was dragging his overall job approval numbers down as well. If nothing else, the consistency in the polls indicates that this is an actual problem for the President and not just a polling anomaly that will disappear in a couple of months.
Going forward, the real problem for the President, though, is the extent to which his inability to convince the American public that a particular course of action in foreign policy is a good idea, or that he is handling a matter in a way that will protect the nation’s vital interests limits his ability to actually get things done. Theoretically, of course, a President can get a lot done in the foreign policy area without having to worry about public support or authority from Congress. Realistically, though, a President who tries to act on the world stage while carrying around the perception that his own citizens don’t support or trust him is going to have a hard time convincing allies and adversaries of much of anything.
It’s hard to say exactly what it is about the President’s foreign policy that has led to this situation. I tend to disagree with the conservative critique that he has been a “weak” President or that he has weakened the United States, for example. In fact, most of my specific criticisms of the President’s foreign policy over the past five years have been due to the extent to which he has continued the aggressive, interventionist policies of his predecessor and expanded on them in connection with things like the Drone War, the action in Libya, or the President’s aborted effort to gather support for an attack on Syria. In the case of the American public, I suspect much of the antipathy toward the President can be laid at the feet of the general war weariness that we see in poll after poll on these issues. As I’ve noted before, the worst legacy of our decade of war may end up being the extent to which it leads the American public to be reflexively against almost any foreign intervention, even ones that might be necessary.
As things stand, I don’t see the President’s numbers improving this area. It used to be the case that a foreign crisis would have a “rally around the flag” effect that would boost a President’s job approval numbers. For President Obama, the exact opposite seems to be happening. Given that it seems unlikely the current round of world crises will end any time soon, it seems that he’ll be in the negative for the remainder of his term in office.