The other day, CNN’s Brian Stelter made an important point, asking whether leading media figures were “letting their fears get the best of them,” and professing that he is “very concerned about the press provoking panic about ISIS.” Stelter quoted commentators beating the drums of war and wondered “whether the media is pushing the president towards further escalation.”
Stelter is right to sound that alarm. And on that score, with Obama set to announce an escalation, here’s something to keep an eye on: Whether news orgs are exaggerating the public’s pro-war sentiment to create the misleading impression of a major shift away from war-weariness.
“Almost two-thirds back attacking militants. Public in more hawkish mood,” blares the Wall Street Journal about a new poll it released this morning. One prominent WSJ writer tweets: “ISIS may have thought video beheadings would reduce Americans’ desire to act; it seems the opposite happened.”
The poll itself does contain some grounds for these conclusions, finding that 61 percent say “military action” against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is “in the national interest.”
But half-baked suggestions that Americans want generic “action” risk being misleading. What actions do Americans actually support? It turns out the WSJ poll also finds that 40 percent say “action” should be “limited to air strikes only” and another 15 percent say we shouldn’t act at all — a total of 55 percent. Meanwhile, all of 34 percent support air strikes and sending in combat troops — perhaps higher than one might expect, but still only one in three Americans.
What’s more, the poll also finds that only 27 percent say the U.S. should become “more active in world affairs.” That’s up from April, but still, it represents barely more than one in four Americans. Meanwhile, 40 percent say we should be less active and another 29 percent say we should maintain our current level of activeness — a total of 69 percent.
But dig down beneath the headlines and you find the CNN poll also showed that a large majority, 61-38, oppose sending in ground troops and an even larger one (more than seven in 10 Americans) want Obama to seek Congressional authorization for any such action. In other words, public opinion is more nuanced and complex than the headlines suggest.
Please, folks, let’s not engage in this sort of hype again. There are just no indications that the public is clamoring for war.
* OBAMA READY TO AUTHORIZE AIRSTRIKES IN SYRIA: The New York Times reports that Obama is ready to authorize airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, which will significantly ramp up American action with uncertain consequences. He is still trying to determine how to arm fighting forces on the ground inside the country. Meanwhile, Congress is looking for a way not to vote on the air campaign:
Both sides appeared to be searching for a way to enlist congressional support without an explicit authorization of force. One way under discussion would be for lawmakers to approve $500 million in funding to train and arm Syrian rebels who would fight ISIS — legislation that has been languishing on Capitol Hill.
But it’s not clear that Republican leaders are prepared even to vote on that, and nor is it clear whether Democratic leaders want to.
* LIBERAL DEMOCRATS DIVIDED: Mother Jones has a good overview of the debate among Congressional liberals, who are divided between those who want to back the President against ISIS and those who fear getting drawn into a conflict with no clear objective. Keep an eye on the Congressional Progressive Caucus:
Most CPC members, according to a caucus staffer, will not take a position until they learn the details of the president’s plan — such as the estimated duration of the military action, the political steps in Iraq that will accompany increased military action, and the contribution of coalition partners. But regardless of their support or opposition to that plan, many progressive caucus members do want the president to seek congressional backing before proceeding with expanded military action.
It doesn’t look like progressives will get that vote. As for whether the goal is defined clearly enough for them, a lot is riding on the next few days.
* TOUGH QUESTIONS FOR OBAMA OVER WAR: David Ignatius has a good column posing some difficult questions to Obama over the coming military action, including:
How will the United States and its allies know when they have “won”? Or will this be more like the Cold War, a decades-long ideological battle punctuated by periods of intense local combat? If so, are the American people ready for such a long and patient struggle…Is the United States walking into a trap that has been constructed by the Islamic State — launching attacks that will rally jihadists around the world?
No wonder members of Congress are reluctant to go on record voting for this action.
* CRUZ PLOTS GOVERNMENT FUNDING STRATEGY: Roll Call reports that the Texas Senator is again huddling with House conservatives to plot strategy on the coming vote to fund the government. House leaders want a quick continuing resolution funding the government into December, to avoid theatrics that could upend the midterms.
But conservatives want the “CR” to last into June to deprive Dems of any chance to pass spending bills at their preferred levels in the lame duck session. Given Cruz’s ability to move House Republicans around like pawns, another round of chaos can’t be ruled out.
* HOUSE GOP CAVES ON EX-IM BANK: The Post reports that House GOP leaders are moving to pass a government funding bill that also temporarily funds the Export-Import Bank, to avoid a fight with Senate Dems that could spark a government shutdown. This will anger conservatives who have long targeted the Ex-Im Bank, but it’s reminder of just how badly GOP leaders want to avoid destructive brinksmanship when control of the Senate appears possible.
* POLL SHOWS GEORGIA SENATE RACE CLOSE: A new 11Alive poll finds that Republican David Perdue’s lead over Dem Michelle Nunn has slipped from nine points to three points among likely voters, 47-44. Most of the movement “comes from women, who had favored Nunn by 2 points, but now favor Nunn by 12 points.”
The new poll is not far off from the polling average, which puts Nunn within four. A surprise pickup in Georgia would make the GOP road to a majority a lot steeper.
* PETERS WIDENS LEAD IN MICHIGAN: A new Detroit News poll finds that Dem Gary Peters has widened his lead over GOP foe Terri Lynn Land to 10 points. Cautionary note: The polling average only has Peters up three, so we should wait to see whether the Detroit News poll is a harbinger of more to come. If so, it could mean the race is slipping off the map for the GOP.
* AND GOP RECYCLES ANCIENT ATTACKS ON OBAMACARE: Glenn Kessler has a nice dissection of an ad from Karl Rove’s Crossroads that attacks Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor with recycled claims about Obamacare, including the debunked idea that it would cut your Medicare benefits. The ad claims the ACA “threatened” people’s insurance and that premiums would soar, but as Kessler notes, cancellations were deferred, the uninsured rate dropped sharply in Arkansas and premiums actually declined.
Details, details! This again shows Republicans reduced to attacking a fictional Obamacare concocted well before the facts on the ground changed dramatically.