By Nile Gardiner
On Tuesday night President Obama will deliver one of the most important political addresses of his presidency, trying to convince a war-weary American public to support his call for military intervention in Syria. Having casually drawn a red line in the sand on the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, Obama’s own credibility – not that of the United States – is on the line. But he faces an uphill struggle to win over public opinion, and is almost certainly heading for a heavy defeat on Capitol Hill, where opposition is mounting among Members of Congress.
The scale of the challenge for Mr. Obama is encapsulated in a new poll released by Fox News (conducted by both Democratic and Republican pollsters), which shows the president’s approval rating falling to 40 percent, the lowest level of support in his presidency (on par with December 2010). Obama’s disapproval stands at 54 percent, the highest negative rating he has received since taking office.
There is no doubt that Obama’s handling of the Syria crisis, and his handling of foreign policy in general, is helping drive the president’s unpopularity. According to the Fox poll, 68 percent of likely voters believe the US “should not be more involved in Syria,” with just 26 percent in favour of greater involvement. Only 36 percent agree that “President Obama (has) adequately explained for you the reasons US military action against Syria is necessary,” and just 27 percent “believe President Obama has clearly identified what the US goals and objectives would be in taking military action against Syria.” 55 percent of those surveyed disagree with the assertion that “the reasons for taking military action in Syria are stronger than they are in Iraq,” and 74 percent believe military action against Syria “is more likely to provoke additional violence in the Middle East.” Overall, 60 percent of voters disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Syria issue, compared to just 29 percent who back him.
Strikingly, a large percentage of American voters believe that Obama’s foreign policy has weakened America’s standing in the world. 48 percent agree that the United States is less respected now than it was five years ago when George W. Bush left office.
A mere 14 percent say that America is more respected today. 54 percent of US voters disapprove of Obama’s foreign policy, with just 39 percent expressing their support. Most significantly, Obama scores badly on the leadership front: 48 percent of those polled by Fox think Obama is “a weak and indecisive leader,” six percentage points more than those who believe he is “a strong and decisive leader.”
In addition, 50 percent feel the president “spends too much time blaming others.”
Against a backdrop of plummeting public approval, and surging Congressional opposition, it is hard to see how the president is going to turn his Syria debacle around. The American people increasingly see him as a weak leader, one that has actually lowered America’s standing in the world instead of raising it. Frankly, President Bush’s record is looking better by the day, as a flailing Obama struggles to stand tall on the world stage while tripping over his own shoelaces at home. At least, with Obama’s predecessor in the White House, the United States was backed by its allies and feared by its enemies. The same cannot be said today.