Americans are Weary—of a President who takes a Cavalier Attitude toward National Security
Two public opinion polls released last week show that the American public is skeptical of the Obama administration’s interim agreement with Iran concerning the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program. Further, the surveys show that Americans by a large majority mistrust the mullahs and, as much as they’d like a negotiated settlement, believe that it’s unlikely. In other words, the broad American mainstream is more judicious and more sensible than elite liberal opinion, which is still caught up in its Rouhani-fever-induced fantasies of a “historical reconciliation” with a state sponsor of terror that has been targeting America, our interests, and our allies for 35 years.
Just as telling, the latest polls push back against the conceit that in the wake of two wars, Americans—Republicans, Democrats, and independents—no longer care about the larger world around them, especially not the Middle East. As it turns out, the American people are not isolationists, nor are they “war-weary,” as President Obama has described them. Rather, it seems that they’re wary of their leaders, and of the yawning gap between the White House’s public posture and its real intentions. These polls show that the public has taken an accurate accounting of the world, and identified the issue that most troubles us and threatens the security of our allies—Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
On December 9, Pew Research Center and USA Today released the results of a poll conducted between December 3 and 8 concerning the November 24 interim agreement struck at Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 powers (the U.N. Security Council members plus Germany). Their survey showed that 43 percent disapprove of the agreement, with 32 percent approving. Republicans disapprove by 58 to 14 percent while only half of the Democrats polled approve of Obama’s deal and 27 percent signaled disapproval. A large majority of respondents, 62 percent, say that the regime in Tehran is not serious about addressing international concerns over its nuclear enrichment program.
Another survey taken shortly after the Geneva deal also found a U.S. public deeply skeptical of Iranian intentions. Conducted by Luntz Global on behalf of al-Masdar.net and TheTower.org—two websites run by The Israel Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit—the poll shows 84 percent of Americans (96 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Democrats) believe Iran is using negotiations to stall as it continues to advance its nuclear weapons development. Only 16 percent think the regime is negotiating in good faith and will eventually give up its nuclear weapons project.
The Masdar/Tower poll also gives evidence of broad opposition to the White House’s negotiating position and tactics. While Secretary of State John Kerry admitted last week that the final deal would likely allow Iran some limited ability to continue to enrich uranium, 86 percent polled believe Iran should not be allowed to enrich at all. Further, even as the administration has relieved some sanctions and is pushing back against congressional efforts to impose a further round of sanctions, 77 percent disagree with the White House and argue that more sanctions and additional financial pressure are the best way to get the regime to abandon its nuclear efforts. In what may be even worse news for the White House, and augur trouble in next year’s midterm elections for its allies, a majority of Democrats (77 percent) as well as Republicans (96 percent) say they’d rather vote for a senator who approves new sanctions than one who doesn’t.
It’s true of course that all polls need to be taken in a broader perspective, and these two come on the heels of surveys that seemed to show support for the interim agreement. For instance, a Hart Research Associates poll also conducted after Geneva showed that 63 percent favor the deal while only 24 percent oppose it, purportedly after the terms of the agreement had been explained to respondents. The problem is that Hart’s pollsters did not explain the deal accurately. Geneva does not require the Iranians to freeze their nuclear program, as the pollsters said; nor does it neutralize Iran’s current stockpile. While it’s true that, as the Hart poll explains, most economic sanctions are for the moment left in place, the effect of Geneva is to unravel the sanctions regime, as international corporations are now lining up to do business with Tehran. In this sense, the pollster’s prompt was incomplete. In another sense, it was plain wrong. As Haaretz reported last week, the White House has admitted to Israeli officials that its estimate that Iran would receive $7 billion in immediate relief was way too low; the real figure is much closer to Israel’s original assessment of $20 billion. That is to say, the relief was not, as the Hart pollsters suggest, modest.
Another survey completed after Geneva also appears to signal approval of the deal. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, 44 percent favor the agreement while only 22 percent oppose it. And yet the more significant responses concern what to do if the interim deal fails. In that case, 49 percent say more sanctions should be imposed, 20 percent believe the White House should take military action, with only 31 percent saying they prefer more diplomacy. These findings do not, as Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said, speak “to war fatigue, where the American appetite for intervention—anywhere—is extremely low.” Rather, it shows that two-thirds of the U.S. public is deeply skeptical that more jaw-jaw with the regime in Tehran is likely to lead to a permanent agreement to curb its nuclear weapons program.
Virtually every poll on the Iran issue, from Pew surveys dating back to 2009 up to a Washington Post/ABC poll post-Geneva, gives clear evidence that Americans want a negotiated settlement. But they show just as plainly that a majority of the American public does not believe the Iranian regime is negotiating in good faith. According to the Masdar/Tower poll, 77 percent of all respondents distrust the mullahs who, according to 69 percent, constitute a greater threat to U.S. national security than all other threats in the Middle East combined.
In other words, the American public prioritizes its strategic concerns. They believe—rightly in our view—that the regime in Tehran is hostile to America. The public doesn’t trust it to bargain in good faith and doesn’t believe it will stop in its march toward a nuclear bomb. Yes, Americans are weary—of a president who takes a cavalier attitude toward national security.
Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard. A senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, Smith is the also author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.