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After Bergdahl swap, public support for Obama foreign policy falls

While most Americans feel the Afghanistan war was a mistake, they especially disapprove of Obama's exchange of five Guantánamo prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama outlined a timetable for the gradual withdrawal of the last US troops in Afghanistan in this speech in the White House Rose Garden on May 27.

President Obama’s foreign policy approval ratings have fallen to the lowest level of his presidency – with discomfort over the administration’s exchange of five Guantánamo prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl further eroding the public’s opinion of the president’s management of world affairs.

The new low for Mr. Obama reflects a barrage of recent global challenges that have distracted a president primed for domestic issues – from Ukraine and Afghanistan to Nigerian school girls and, most recently, an exploding Iraq.

The irony for Obama is that the new low rating – only 37 percent of Americans say they approve of the president’s foreign policy in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll – comes on the heels of a major speech the president delivered at West Point in late May that was billed by the White House as defining Obama’s worldview and setting the course for foreign policy for the rest of his term.

Few Americans may have even noticed the speech. But some of the ideas it espoused for America’s role in the world – a cautious approach to the use of American military force, extracting the US from unpopular foreign adventures, and avoiding actions that risk creating more enemies for America – could be seen in the Bergdahl swap.

But the exchange of five presumably hardened enemies of America – all five had been at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility for more than a decade – for one US soldier did not register well with Americans. The poll found that 44 percent of Americans disapprove of the swap, while 30 percent approve.

The poll also found that 65 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting.

That’s a mixed result for Obama. He is the president who is essentially getting America out of the Afghanistan war by the end of the year, and completely by the end of 2016. So the low view of the war would seem to put the public behind him.

But Obama is also the president of the Afghanistan surge of late 2009, which added 33,000 additional US troops to the war. 

The mixed signals Obama sent on Afghanistan may be only one factor in low public approval on foreign policy. But if Obama is receiving low marks for a worldview that in some ways reflects the public’s views, the seeming disconnect raises questions about whether the public has a clear sense of what the president’s foreign policy is or what it aims to do.  

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