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Obamas’ Foreign-Policy Contradictions

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There is an interesting anomaly in the new Wall Street Journal poll. The headline finding is that most Americans want to pull away from the world: “The 47% of respondents who called for a less-active role in world affairs marked a larger share than in similar polling in 2001, 1997 and 1995.” On the other hand respondents disapprove of President Obama’s foreign policy by a margin of 53 percent to 38 percent, making the president’s approval rating in foreign policy worse than in economic policy (where 42 percent approve of his conduct). 

How can this be, given that Obama’s foreign policy is all about having America take a less-active role in the world? Isn’t Obama giving the public what it wants? The answer, I believe, is that most Americans are ambivalent. On the one hand, they like the idea of doing less, and that impulse has been reinforced by five years of presidential rhetoric about “nation building begins at home” and “the tide of war is receding.” On the other hand, most Americans also want a vigorous defense of American interests abroad and they are uneasy about the image of weakness we currently project.

The pollsters read two questions to those surveyed and asked them which one more closely reflected their view of the world. “Statement A: We need a president who will present an image that America has a more open approach and is willing to negotiate with friends and foes alike. Statement B: We need a president who will present an image of strength that shows America’s willingness to confront our enemies and stand up for our principles.” It turns out that Statement B–reflecting a desire to show strength–won 55 percent support, whereas Statement A–calling for a more “open approach,” whatever that means–won the support of only 39 percent. The number opting for strength actually increased by five points since the question was asked in 2008 at the conclusion of the Bush presidency.

Further buttressing the impression that Americans respond to strength, respondents disapproved of Obama’s weak handling of the Ukraine crisis by a margin of 45 percent to 37 percent.

My takeaway? Americans may have mixed impulses in foreign policy but they are not dedicated isolationists. In fact they are ready to be led toward a stronger and more active foreign policy–a project that is likely to await Obama’s successor, whoever he or she may be.

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Max Boot is a leading military historian and foreign-policy analyst.

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Max Boot

April 30, 2014

Related link – http://tinyurl.com/ketpp7a

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Obama’s Foreign Policy Is Unpopular Because He Takes Unpopular Actions

Max Boot tries to make sense of the new WSJ/NBC News poll result on the public’s foreign policy preferences and predictably fails. He notes that Obama’s foreign policy is more unpopular than it has ever been:

How can this be, given that Obama’s foreign policy is all about having America take a less-active role in the world [bold mine-DL]? Isn’t Obama giving the public what it wants? The answer, I believe, is that most Americans are ambivalent. On the one hand, they like the idea of doing less, and that impulse has been reinforced by five years of presidential rhetoric about “nation building begins at home” and “the tide of war is receding.” On the other hand, most Americans also want a vigorous defense of American interests abroad and they are uneasy about the image of weakness we currently project.

The more obvious and defensible explanation is that many Americans want the U.S. to be less active in the world, and they then notice that the U.S. seems to be just as active as ever and disapprove of that. Americans know what Obama promised in his last election campaign, and they can also see that Obama has often not been doing what he said he would do. Since his re-election, Obama has repeatedly given or tried to give the public a foreign policy that it very much does not want. It is common to argue that Obama has tailored his foreign policy to suit public opinion, but that is at most only half-true. On some of the most significant decisions of his presidency, he has opted for the policy that most Americans did not support, and it was only on Syria that the resistance was so strong that he was forced to back off. Americans do want “a vigorous defense of American interests abroad,” but most also don’t believe that this has anything to do with bombing Syria or wading into the Ukraine crisis. I suppose Americans generally wouldn’t like the U.S. to be perceived as “weak,” but most wouldn’t agree with hawkish definitions of what constitutes “weakness.” There is no contradiction to be found in these numbers so long as one doesn’t start from faulty hawkish assumptions about what Obama’s foreign policy has actually been.

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Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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 DANIEL LARISON

April 30, 2014

Related link – http://tinyurl.com/o4g8twh

 

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