Americans agree with Obama on Iraq, yet score him low on foreign policy

A new poll shows Obama’s foreign policy ranking at an all-time low. Most Americans agree with him on Iraq, but are wary of sending hundreds of military advisers back there.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq, Thursday in the press briefing room at the White House. Obama said the US will send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq.

President Obama and most Americans are in agreement on Iraq: The United States shouldn’t have invaded and occupied that country in the first place, and it shouldn’t send a bunch of US troops back into that fight.

To the extent that Americans concern themselves with foreign policy – just 19 percent tell Gallup they’re following the Benghazi affair “very closely,” despite congressional Republican efforts to portray that episode as a major administration failing – that would seem to play politically in Obama’s favor.

Yet, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, “just 37 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, which is an all-time low in the survey, while 57 percent disapprove, an all-time high,” as NBC reported.

There are other elements at play here, of course. A plurality (44-30 percent) disapproves of the Taliban prisoner swap which brought home US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after five years of captivity.

But this souring opinion on Obama and foreign policy also fits a picture of declining US influence in the world, symbolized by developments in Syria and Ukraine as well as in Iraq.

 “More than half of Americans think their country is less powerful than it was ten years ago, the highest share since the Pew Research Center started asking the question in 1974,” the Economist reports. “Accordingly, Americans feel less inclined to act as global policeman: the share who thinks America should ‘mind its own business internationally’ is ten percentage points higher than at the end of the Vietnam War.”

A recent Public Policy Polling survey buttresses this analysis, putting the question this way:

“President Obama has announced that he will not send US troops to Iraq under any circumstances. Senator John McCain has argued that the United States should have left troops in Iraq rather than withdraw them from Iraq as we did in 2011. Would you say you agree more with President Obama or Senator McCain about whether the U.S. should have troops in Iraq?”

By nearly two-to-one (54-28 percent) respondents said they agree with Obama.

By an even greater margin (67-20 percent) those who took the survey said the US “should provide supplies and intel, but no ground troops” rather than providing “whatever help is necessary, including ground troops.”

What’s more, most Americans think the Bush administration’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq was a mistake – by a margin of 50-38 percent in a Pew Research Center/USA Today poll, and by 62-37 percent in a CNN/ORC poll.

"All in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Iraq was worth fighting, or not?" asked an ABC News/Washington Post poll. By 58-38 percent, a majority thought the war had not been worth fighting. CBS News, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, and Gallup all had similar results.

Many Americans no doubt remain weary and wary of US involvement in Iraq – especially now that a few hundred US advisers are to return as “boots on the ground” per Obama’s order this week. Likely, this adds to the general public grumpiness about Obama and foreign policy.

Obama acknowledged that concern Thursday, saying, “We always have to guard against mission creep.”

Former State Department Iraq expert Henri Barkey, now a professor of international relations at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.,  says the military advisers' objectives are bound to multiply the longer they stay.

As he told the Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi, “There is an element of mission creep built into this [deployment], whether we like it or not.”

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