A conservative friend remarked to me that President Obama “has gone from the president who could do no wrong to the president who could do no right.” This is reflected in both polling and commentary. The president’s credibility is plunging, and he is now managing to antagonize both right and left.
The discussion Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” was illustrative:
GEORGE WILL: Two axioms from two great military leaders: Napoleon said, if you start to take Vienna, take Vienna. That is, don’t be tentative, whatever else you do. And don’t be tardy. General MacArthur said, every military debacle can be explained by two words, too late. Too late to discern the threat, to prepare for the threat, to respond to the threat. This intervention in another nation’s civil war with sectarian overlays and ethnic complications was announced not by the president, not in conjunction with Congress. It was announced by the deputy national security adviser.
This is obviously a reluctant president who now has himself in a competition with the Russians, who are all in supporting the other side.
We want to have negotiations. We’re not neutral. The president has said Assad lacks legitimacy and Assad must go. So, the negotiations are to negotiate Assad’s departure from power. I don’t think he’s interested.
JONATHAN KARL: Okay. You’re saying the president is wrong, because you didn’t think we should get in there.
Jeffrey, you’ve been for a long time saying that the administration, that the U.S. needs to get involved, needs to arm the rebels and do more, now?
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I agree with George: This is the worst of all possible worlds. This is dipping a toe in. This is signaling we’re in but not really in. No one believes – including the president, I believe – no one believes that these small arms are going to change the balance of this war. I don’t think Hezbollah, I don’t think the Iranians are sitting there going, oh look, the Americans are sending eight trucks of small weapons to the rebels, we better give up.
So, what I’m saying is, either be in or be out, but don’t play around in this.
I think that we’re going to find that we might be on the slippery slope. And I happen to agree that it might be too late. We’re not in a position to intervene in what has become a Hezbollah-al Qaeda war. And I don’t know the answer to, who do you support in that. I think neither party is the party you support.
After a weak defense from a former Obama administration official, Martha Raddatz added:
I’m not sure I know what the strategy is and how those two match. Because the small arms are, frankly, not going to do much good at all. They may not do any harm, but they’re not going to do much good. It will not change the balance there.
If the president really wants to make a difference there, and you talk about military force, I doubt he’s going to send in boots on the ground ever, and they’ve made that very clear. But if we are in, and it really does appear we’re on a slide in, you really can’t put your toe in the water on something like this. You now own, even if it’s just a toe, you own part of that. If you want to make a bigger difference, they have to look at a no-fly zone.
There you have a conservative not prone to intervention, a pro-Obama liberal and a mainstream reporter all united in their disdain for the president’s foreign policy non-leadership.
The same is true on other fronts. On the NSA surveillance programs, liberals and libertarians are incensed that Obama would carry on and expand the Bush-era surveillance programs. Conservatives are disgusted with his failure to date to defend these programs and with his hypocrisy on the issue. Both right and left are appalled at the Justice Department’s snooping into the media. Both Dems and Republicans are openly critical of Obamacare’s implementation. Administration scandal, prevarication and sheer incompetence have eroded the president’s support from all sides.
Hence we see a new CNN poll, which finds support for the president among Democrats, Republicans and independents all falling. “President Barack Obama’s approval rating dropped eight percentage points over the past month, to 45%, the president’s lowest rating in more than a year and a half, according to a new national poll… . The poll indicates that for the first time in Obama’s presidency, half of the public says they don’t believe he is honest and trustworthy.” Among independents, his approval has cratered. (“The president also dropped 10 points among independent voters, from 47% last month to 37% now, with Obama’s disapproval among independents jumping 12 points to 61%.”)
What served Obama in the past – a compliant media, a skill in rhetorical vagueness, the ability to vilify his enemies – no longer will. What is left is a president with a faulty view of the world (and foreign policy debacles staking up) and with no domestic agenda to speak of. It is not immediately clear if he can turn things around or even how he would go about doing so. He is more visibly out of his depth than at any time in his presidency.