Monday, January 11, 2016

Obama Losing Public Confidence to Fight Terrorism

The War on Terror has been a difficult policy for President Obama. Along with banning the term, the administration’s goal has been to shift American resources and attention to other foreign policy arenas and policy topics. But the Middle East and Islamic terrorists have repeatedly pushed themselves into the agenda.
Photo: Getty Images

In September last year, public opinion turned back to the Middle East and demanded a response to ISIS’s beheadings of Americans and others and their claiming large swaths of Iraqis and Syrians their new caliphate. The Wall Street Journal poll published on September 9, 2014 showed 61 percent supported military action and the President’s foreign policy approval was only 32 percent. In a reluctant response, the President had to reverse direction and start a bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.

In a repeat performance, the administration had to launch another defensive public relations action this December. Polling, flowing in after the Paris massacre (Nov. 13) and the San Bernardino attack (Dec. 2), showed that terrorism had become the top issue and the public was again unimpressed by the administration’s attention to the issue or its strategy.
  • Wall Street Journal/NBC News, 12-15-15. Terrorism now should be top priority for government (40%). 70% say nation on wrong track. 57% disapprove Obama’s handling of foreign policy.
  • Gallup, 12-14-15. Americans now likely to name “terrorism” number one problem – 16%, up from 3% in early November, highest number in decade and above economy. 51% worry about being a victim, and 67% believe terrorist act likely in next two weeks. Confidence in government’s ability to protect citizens drops to 55% from 70% in early 2013.
  • New York Times/CBS News, 12-10-15. 57% of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of terrorism and 70% say the fight is going badly.
  • Pew Research Center, 12-15-15. Americans’ belief in their government’s ability to prevent terrorism dropped to below 50% for first time since 9/11 (46%), down from 72% in late 2014. Obama’s rating of handling terrorism drops across the partisan spectrum (11% Republican, 33% unaffiliated, 64% Democrat).
  • CNN, 12-21-15. Only 25% of public satisfied with how U.S. War on Terror is going. 40% believe terrorists are winning and 18% U.S. and allies.
In the face of the onslaught of bad news on the performance of the national security team, a major public relations offensive was mounted from the December 6 Oval Office speech up until the President left for holiday December 17 (see The Buzz: War on Terror is Back).

The administration’s action provided stark evidence of the influence of published opinion polls to influence public officials and public policy or at least public relations. To a large extent, Obama’s strategy is now much more subject to domestic events and news from the battlefield than another round of speeches, press conferences and publicity shots.

See The Buzz blogs:
Panic in the White House – Foreign Policy
ISIS and the Midterm Election – 9KUSA
The Obama Policy of Restraint – What’s Next in American Foreign Policy?

Also see Defense News: Obama to visit Pentagon Monday for Islamic State group briefing

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