The newest Washington Post-ABC poll shows that support for President Obama on Iraq has collapsed:
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.
The latest New York Times/CBS poll has more bad news for the president:
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.
Overall the numbers are not much better. (“The president’s approval rating is now at 40 percent, while 54 percent say they disapprove of the job he is doing in office, a six-point jump since May.”) Unsurprising to many conservatives, the only popular moves seem to be those that reflect hints of a more robust foreign policy: “51 percent of those surveyed, including Republicans, Democrats and independents, said they supported his recent decision to send 300 military advisers to Iraq. Fifty-six percent said they supported the use of drones in Iraq, a military option that Mr. Obama’s advisers have said is still on the table as the militants, known as the Islamic State [of] Iraq and Syria, have extended gains across the northern parts of the country.” Unlike the far right and left, including figures such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the public does see an interest for the United States in the fate of Iraq: “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.”
There could be no better example of the yearning for presidential leadership than this. Voters in the United States, as in most democracies, are generally opposed to war, but they also understand the risks of a dangerous world and the essential role of the United States. The idea that we should revert to a 9/11 mentality, dismantle our anti-terror apparatus, give up drones 0r be bystanders in the Middle East does not sit well with the public. It really doesn’t sit well with allies, who now openly express disdain for the administration and seek out their own solutions (e.g. the Saudis back Egypt’s military government, Egypt looks to Russia for assistance, Israel develops its relationship with China).
Isolationism, whether from the right or left, works best in theory and in campaigns, but rarely in practice. We now have the worst of all worlds — an aggressive Iran pushing its way to a nuclear arms capability, the Sunni states prepared to get their own nukes, a potential jihadist state in the midst of the Middle East, a Syrian civil war that has taken 160,000 lives while weakening and overwhelming our allies such as Jordan and jihadist safe harbors in several failed or failing states. This did not come about because of too much U.S. involvement but because of the absence, belatedness or insufficiency of U.S. action. Like U.S. voters, allies and friends around the globe have a hard time understanding what U.S. policy is and what our objectives are.
There is bipartisan worry that the administration is heading for even greater trouble, perhaps about to make a rotten deal with Iran or to preside over Iraq’s dissolution. So let me suggest to House Republicans that they take the Benghazi select committee, which has yet to get off the ground, and fold it into a much more important and truly bipartisan select committee on the formation of a new al-Qaeda state in the Middle East and the threats from Iran. How did we get here? What are the dangers to Americans? The select committee on the Middle East collapse is of much greater importance than affirming that the president didn’t want to let on that al-Qaeda was far from dead and had organized an attack on the United States. As we have said many times, the reason Benghazi is important is not the misleading narrative from the White House but the completely wrongheaded policy that failed to appreciate the rise in jihadism in the Middle East. The extent of that failure is only now becoming clear.
An inquiry such as the one I describe would have a number of benefits. It would help educate the public. It would force the administration to get serious about a coherent policy. It would reveal who in Congress is serious about national security and who is not. It would put discrete mistakes into a larger context (e.g. Do we really want to dismantle or hinder the National Security Agency when ISIS is about to create its own terrorist state capable of hitting the United States?) It would, I believe, reveal that there is a more agreement from the center-left through the mainstream right on foreign policy than one might imagine. And for whoever will become president in 2017, it may serve as a useful analysis of what has gone wrong and what threats we face. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) should give this strong consideration. It would be an act of statesmanship at a time we badly need some.