LOS ANGELES, Nov. 20, 2015 — President Obama is coming to the end of a rocky two-term administration, one in which he has enjoyed little broad-based support for his management of the economy. He has often received approval for his foreign policy performance, however, from a slim majority of the American people. In light of events of recent weeks, though, it’s hard to imagine him regaining the trust of most Americans to lead this country internationally.
Public opinion had already begun to turn against the Iran nuclear agreement. That multilateral pact between the United States, Iran and other nations subjects Iran to a framework of oversight and inspections meant to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. In exchange it gets relief from debilitating economic sanctions.
Opinion polls show American opposition to the agreement reaching double the support for it, a trend encouraged by fierce Republican criticism. Now with the rise of ISIS and the terror it has wrought in Paris, Obama’s stature as a passable commander in chief to most Americans is badly shaken.
Americans disapproved of Obama’s handling of the ISIS threat by 64 percent to 29 percent before the Paris attacks, according to Gallup. That figure can only fall dramatically in its aftermath, particularly given that Obama had publicly stated only hours before that the ISIS (or ISIL, as he prefers to refer to them) threat had been contained.
It’s hard to remember a time when a commander in chief’s assessment of the capacity of an enemy force has been so quickly and dramatically been refuted by facts on the ground, and it makes the president seem out of touch with the true state of the effort he is leading.
Complicating things further still for the president has been the subject of Syrian refugees fleeing the devastation wrought by ISIS. President Obama has hoped to bring 10,000 such women and children, but mostly young men to the United States to give them sanctuary from the conflicts. After initial reports from Paris indicated that one of the attackers in the massacre that left 130 dead and over 350 wounded may have been posing as a Syrian refugee (a report that may have unfounded after all) many Americans, and Republicans in particular, have expressed vocal opposition to housing Syrian refugees in the United States.
President Obama was surprisingly aggressive in criticizing political leaders for their opposition to this, calling “offensive” the suggestions of some that we only admit Christian refugees (though it is true that ISIS does not recruit Christians.)
He ridiculed presidential candidates for talking tough about how they would handle Russian President Vladimir Putin, but being cowardly when it comes to accepting orphans and widows, saying, “At first they were scared of the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they are scared of 3-year-old orphans. That doesn’t seem so tough to me.”
Yet while the president was taking aim at Republicans, the broader opposition to importing these refugees has become bipartisan right under his nose, with a substantial number of house Democrats voting with a united Republican majority in the house to pause the president’s move to accommodate the refugees.
At about the same time Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, announced that he would be blocking the bill in the upper chamber. Democratic governors still stand at the ready, for the most part, to accept the refugees into their states, but fear and discontent of the move has begun to boil over, even in the Democratic Party.
The aftermath of a crisis should be an opportunity to unify people around what we fundamentally hold most dear, and that is the lives and safety of our friends and family, both at home and abroad.
It is also an occasion to be reminded of the values we hold in common, which as President Obama has insistently pointed out, includes compassion for others less fortunate than ourselves, irrespective of their religion.
Obama had the opportunity to make this point while acknowledging the legitimacy of concerns held by his political opposition which, rightly or wrongly, reflect the concerns of millions of Americans of his own party.
Instead, he’s presented himself as out of touch with the fears of Americans at precisely the time his own credibility for being able to properly assess the threats that raise those fears is in precipitous decline.
It is an unfortunate way for a commander in chief to enter the waning year of his presidency.
Hopefully, he realizes that when it comes to ensuring the safety of the nation, he needs to make the most of the time he has left to regain the trust of the American people.