Public still not sold on Obama’s foreign policy

COMMENTARY BY:
CHRISTINE TALENTI

The new national poll displays an all-time low for President Obama’s approval rating on foreign policy. Receiving a four in ten approval of his job on foreign policy, Obama is struggling to gain trust among US citizens. Particularly regarding Obama’s handling of the situation in Syria, only three out of ten Americans approve.

In response to the use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people, the president has come to the unavoidable conclusion that military action must be taken. Syrian’s president Bashar al-Assad has crossed an international red line with the use of sarin gas against his own people. Having said that the he would take action if this red line were crossed, Obama has a responsibility to strike on Syria. Of course Obama would rather take political action rather than military action, but he has come to the unavoidable conclusion that a military strike against Syria’s regime is necessary. That is his position and he has sent this to Congress.

The public opposition, displayed in the president’s new low approval rating on foreign policy, comes from war weary Americans afraid of another Iraq situation. President Obama came into office on the platform that he was ending wars. Now he wants to get involved in yet another war that has unpredictable outcomes. Because of these unpredictable outcomes, Obama cannot simply go into this alone.

The president also received claims of being our weakest president yet, lacking authority in decision-making. This could also add to Obama’s low approval rating. Obama’s judgment to wait for Congressional approval did not show his weakness; rather I believe it was necessary, proving his skillful tactics. Waiting for the approval of Congress will allow Obama to rally our allies. We need to be ready for what al-Assad has up his sleeves if we take a military strike.

If it were as easy as sending in some missiles to destroy a warehouse or a landing strip to give al-Assad a slap on the wrist for his bad behavior, Obama would not have decided to wait for Congress. It is clear that it is much more complex than this. Military action is required, no doubt. The complexity comes in deciding what the next step will be, and the next, and the next. Not only do our president and Congress need to devise a plan of military action, they need to make plans a-z addressing which steps to take preceding the strike. These steps involve having the support of our strongest allies.

The uncertainty further heightens American resistance to a military strike. 15-20% of rebel forces are said to be extremist groups. America, and furthermore, the international community, isn’t too keen on giving al-Qaeda military support. If the regime is toppled, there would be a rat-race for control in Syria and these extremists groups could very well take over, furthering the danger instead of eradicating it.

It’s unclear to the U.S. as to what exactly Obama’s tentative plan of action is. The lack of communication led to the peoples’ disapproval of Obama’s job on foreign policy as well. Obama’s address to the nation last Tuesday night had little effect on the public’s position, however. Citizens are too set in their ways due to fear and a war-wearied mindset.
We need to put aside our fear stemming from Iraq and realize that there is a necessity for military strikes against Syria. A red line was drawn, and on Aug. 21, this line was crossed. The use of chemical weapons cannot be seen as the norm. There are international standards to be upheld. This situation cannot be left alone. Obama’s strategies in coming up with a solution to this disaster have been the right ones. He realizes the situation’s immense complexity. Waiting to get congressional and international support will make a possible military strike more effective.

A diplomatic response is almost always the preference of the public. Russia’s proposal to destroy all of Syria’s weapons suggests a diplomatic answer. Obama has halted congressional approval for a military strike, in light of Russia’s plan. This is the new focus with the president and Congress, but consideration for military action is not off the table. I do not see Obama’s approval ratings changing until action is actually taken. When and if military action is taken against Syria, Americans might change their minds. Until Americans actually see the effects of what might happen, public opinions will not change.

Contact the writer: christine.talenti@scranton.edu

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