Obama ponders action against Islamic State extremists. What do Americans think?

Pew finds most Americans think President Obama is 'not tough enough' on foreign policy and national security. But most also are war-weary and don’t think the US has a responsibility to 'do something about the violence in Iraq.'

Evan Vucci/AP
President Barack Obama listens to a question in the White House press room, where he spoke about the economy, Iraq, and Ukraine Thursday before convening a meeting with his national security team on the militant threat in Syria and Iraq.

It’s been the summer of his discontent for President Obama, at least in terms of how voters apparently see him.

Gallup reported this past week that Americans are more than twice as likely to say they “strongly disapprove” of President Barack Obama's job performance (39 percent) as they are to say they “strongly approve” (17 percent), and  it’s been trending in that direction.

“The percentage of Americans who strongly disapprove of Obama has increased over time, while the percentage who strongly approve has dropped by almost half,” writes Gallup’s Justin McCarthy in an analysis of the polling organization’s latest findings. “In the first year of Obama's presidency, the percentages of Americans who had strong views about the job he was doing were essentially tied [32-30 percent with a slight edge to “approve”], but the strongly negative responses now significantly outweigh the strongly positive ones.”

When those who “moderately” approve or disapprove of the President’s job performance are added in, Obama still comes up short – 53 percent disapprove to 44 percent approve.

True, there’s a strong partisan element to this with Republicans more intense in their disapproval – 75 percent “strongly disapprove” of the way he’s handling his job as president.

But Democrats’ enthusiasm for Obama has waned considerably since that first honeymoon summer of 2009, with strong approval dropping from 65 percent back then to 38 percent today. Among independents, intensity of views has been more consistent over time, but it’s still not great news for Obama today: 54-39 percent disapprove/approve.

Looking at specific issues or presidential responsibilities – particularly at a time when dangerous situations around the world (Ukraine, Iraq/Syria) seem to be escalating – gives similar and perhaps more urgent results.

“Obama’s approach to foreign policy continues to be viewed as not tough enough,” the Pew Research Center reported this past week. “Fifty-four percent say Obama is not tough enough in his approach on foreign policy and national security issues, while 36 percent say his approach is about right and just 3 percent say he is too tough.”

Obama did himself no favors the other day when he remarked to reporters that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for confronting the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and Syria.

“While the White House went into damage-control mode, emphasizing that it was a reference to the lack of decisions about increasing military action in Iraq and/or Syria and not a lack of a broader strategy there, the damage was already done,” writes Aaron Blake in the Washington Post’s political blog “The Fix.”

“As with all gaffes, the worst ones are the ones that confirm people's preexisting suspicions or fit into an easy narrative,” Blake writes. “That's why ‘47 percent’ stung Mitt Romney so much, and it's why ‘don't have a strategy’ hurts Obama today.

It certainly gave a major opening for Republicans like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the Senate’s most prominent hawks.

Confronting the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and Syria, McCain and Graham wrote in The New York Times the other day, “requires a comprehensive strategy, presidential leadership and a far greater sense of urgency.”

But some prominent Democrats also are urging Obama to be more vigorous in dealing with the Islamic State.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D) of California, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is he’s very cautious. Maybe, in this instance, too cautious.”

In their New York Times op-ed column, McCain and Graham acknowledged that Americans are “war-weary” after 10-plus years in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Recent polls confirm this. Pew found last month that most Americans – 55-39 percent – don’t think the United States has a responsibility to “do something about the violence in Iraq.”

No doubt that’s a key reason why Obama is being cautious and deliberate in confronting the Islamic State.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.