President Obama could momentarily crow on Tuesday that Special Forces had captured a leading suspect in the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. But the glow didn’t last for long.
With seemingly relentless bad news from overseas washing over the president and his administration, Obama’s approval rating just hit the skids even more – with a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showing that only 41 percent of those interviewed approve of Obama’s performance as president.
That approval rating matched a previous all-time low for the president in the news organizations’ polling. More troubling than that, at a time of heightened alarm about the chaotic and collapsing situations in the Middle East, Obama’s approval rating on foreign policy plummeted to a new all-time low of 37 percent.
The survey comes on the heels of a political uproar over a prisoner swap approved by the administration that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl -- a possible deserter -- in return for the release of five dangerous Taliban detainees who had been held in Guantanamo Bay. It also comes amid the outbreak of vicious sectarian warfare in Iraq that has led to the slaughter of Shiites and Sunnis alike and is threatening the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
While Obama inherited the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from Republican President George W. Bush, he is now being widely blamed for prematurely withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and for signaling a 2016 deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, when it is clear that neither of those countries’ governments is capable of repelling insurgents on their own.
The president’s indecisiveness and super-caution in addressing other international crises – particularly the three-year old civil war in Syria between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and rebels that has killed 150,000 people and displaced nine million others – is maddening to conservatives and liberals a like.
Former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz Cheney, writing in The Wall Street Journal today, declared that “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many. Too many times to count, Mr. Obama has told us he is ‘ending’ the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – as though wishing made it so. His rhetoric has now come crashing into reality.”
Of course, it’s almost laughable that Dick Cheney – a major architect of the Bush administration’s misguided and ultimately disastrous policies in Iraq and Afghanistan – is now lecturing Obama on his efforts to extract the U.S. from more than two decades of largely fruitless fighting in the Middle East that led to the deaths of more than 6,800 American troops.
Many others on both sides of the political divide despair over what they view as a president overwhelmed by events and presiding over a collapsing foreign doctrine.
Ruth Marcus, a liberal columnist for The Washington Post, wrote today that Obama’s leadership has been hampered by two overarching and debilitating instincts: His tendency to “overlearn the lessons of history” and his frequent “audacity deficit.”
“On foreign policy, the signal episode of Obama’s overlearning the lessons of history is . . . pretty much the entirety of his foreign policy,” she wrote. “It has been a reaction, understandable enough, to the adventurism of George W. Bush, primarily the ill-advised, ill-fated venture in Iraq.”
As for the audacity deficit, she notes, Obama vowed realism and yet badly underplayed his hand on the world stage. “Hence the administration’s reluctance to intervene in Libya, the costly dillydallying over whether and how to help the rebels in Syria, the failure to push hard enough for a status of forces agreement that would have allowed U.S. troops to remain in Iraq,” according to Marcus.
This cross-aisle dismay over Obama’s faulty stewardship abroad appears to be widespread. According to the new Wall Street Journal-NBC poll, 54 percent of respondents said they don’t believe Obama “is able to lead the country and get the job done.” That compares with just 42 percent who think he is up to the job.
And the public’s sense of presidential drift and sub-par leadership has only gotten worse over the past year. Forty-one percent of those interviewed for the poll agreed that the president’s performance has deteriorated in that time.
“What we have here is an anomaly in a sense,” Norman Ornstein, a political expert with the American Enterprise Institute, said in an interview. “The economy is starting to improve and the policy initiatives that the president has put forward are pretty widely supported. But there’s a sense out there – even though people do not want to get more deeply involved in the Middle East – that the world is careening out of control, and we’re not in charge.”
There were a few rays of sunshine for Obama in the new poll. For instance, two-thirds of those surveyed said they support the recent Environmental Protection Agency regulations to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants. And only 14 percent of respondents blame the president for the scheduling scandal at the Veterans Affairs Department that may have contributed to the deaths of scores of vets.
Overall, however, the news is bleak. With the poll also showing Obama losing support of some core constituents, including Hispanics and younger Americans, it could all add up to bad news for the Democrats in the 2014 mid-term election.
“It all comes back to one word: leadership,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who helped conduct the poll with Democratic pollster Fred Yang and Republican Bill McInturff. “He may be winning the issues debate, but he’s losing the political debate because they don’t see him as a leader,” Hart said.
Over the weekend, Obama took some heat for spending three days in the resort area of Rancho Mirage, Calif., while the crisis in Iraq continued to boil over. But with so much bad news from overseas – and so few good options from which to choose, who could blame him for wanting to escape from Washington?
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