Obama inherits debris left
by Bush wars and scandals
President Obama has an uphill struggle ahead to change American attitudes about his foreign policy. Click image to enlarge.
DESPITE HIS THOUGHTFUL and statesmanlike speech at the United Nations on Tuesday – which got generally favorable reviews – President Obama has a huge foreign policy problem.
At home and abroad, he is facing stiff headwinds. But they are not of his own making.
Pundits everywhere have forgotten recent American history. We are today reaping the whirlwind of major foreign policy blunders of the Bush/Cheney years, and Obama has an uphill struggle as he deals with multiple crises in the Middle East.
U.S. prestige and influence in the region is at generational lows. But even more important, the American public is resisting involvement, opposing intervention in Syria, and disapproving of the president’s conduct of international affairs by a significant margin.
COVERAGE OF THE president’s widely anticipated speech to the U.N. General Assembly was generally positive, at it should have been. Obama put on good show.
The story in the Guardian in the U.K. was headlined Obama tells UN that diplomatic path must be tested with Iran
Julian Borger and Ed Pilkington write:
The Guardian story about the president’s speech to the UN was a good example of the positive coverage. Click image to enlarge.
“President Obama on Tuesday pledged to focus his foreign policy efforts on the Middle East, stepping up efforts to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and leading an international push to support the creation of a Palestinian state as a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
They then note the tone of the speech.
“In a mark of the importance and urgency with which the White House treats the need for a nuclear deal with the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, Obama assigned his secretary of state, John Kerry, to oversee negotiations with Tehran.”
Like many others, they point out the unusual diplomatic opening offered by the newly elected president of Iran (who followed Obama at the podium six hours later.)
“He also offered Rouhani an important symbolic gesture, making the first official US acknowledgement of the CIA’s well-documented role in the ousting of Iran’s democratically-elected government in 1953.”
But it was not the speech itself and the widespread media coverage of it or the generally favorable editorials today that were the most important development of the day.
That came early Tuesday evening from The New York Times, but it didn’t even make the front page of today’s print edition.
The headline on the story about the New York Times/CBS poll was not good news for the president.
In 49% in Poll Fault Obama on Policies Outside U.S. Dali Sussman summed up the main part of Obama’s problem in a nutshell:
“About half of Americans disapprove of the way President Obama is handling foreign policy, a new high as he confronts a diplomatic opening with Iran and efforts to remove chemical arms in Syria, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.”
And the news gets worse: the trend lines are negative for the president and getting more so.
The New York Times/CBS poll was not good news for the president and his foreign policy. Click image to enlarge.
“Forty-nine percent disapproved of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy efforts, up 10 points since early June, and 40 percent approved,” Sussman reports.
“The president’s negative rating on foreign policy has grown among Americans of all political stripes, with disapproval up 8 points among Democrats, 10 points among Republicans and 13 points among independents.”
ONE HAS TO LOOK BACK not only at the events of the past few months – the coup in Egypt, the Syrian civil war and chemical weapons attacks, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – but a lot further to figure out why the public is so opposed to Obama’s initiatives on the Middle East.
Many remember the run-up to the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, and how Bush/Cheney administration officials – including the president himself – stretched the truth to breaking point to justify their ill-fated adventure in nation building.
Just as important, the decade old disaster in Afghanistan, where billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost have failed to create a viable nation-state.
President George Bush and his infamous “mission accomplished” speech on an aircraft carrier in 2003.
And, after the Iraq invasion and “shock and awe” came the scandal at Abu Ghraib and the continuing embarrassment at Guantanamo Bay prison, which, to his credit, President Obama has done everything in his power to resolve.
It is no wonder Americans are tired of foreign misadventures and wary of any involvement in what seem to be intractable problems engulfing the Middle East.
But, this time, the situation is decidedly different from what existed a decade ago. There are real possibilities for significant breakthroughs, however tentative.
The editorial in The New York Times this morning recognizes this.
In President Obama at the United Nations the paper puts it this way:
“Mr. Obama affirmed his intention to use “all elements of our power, including military force,” to secure America’s interests, like preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
“But he also said that after more than a decade of war and a conflicted record in the Middle East, America has gained a “hard-earned humility” about its ability to alter the course of other countries.
“The challenge for the United States is balancing those two ideas.”
Indeed, the challenge is serious. The president will have to use all of the power and prestige of his office over the coming months to bring the American people on board with his program of constructive, diplomatic intervention.
He is not a warmonger. But events are moving quickly, and the window of opportunity will not stay open long. Let us hope the president can seize the day.
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