President Obama’s handling of the Syrian crisis was criticized on both sides of the aisle, while winning some praise from unlikely voices. Though critics are adamant that the inability to garner domestic and international support for a military strike in response to Syria’s crossing of the president’s “red line” of chemical weapons use was a failure of the administration, many Americans see things differently.
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll reveals that while 53 percent disapprove of the way President Obama handled Syria, 79 percent believe he did the right thing in seeking a diplomatic option and 47 percent think the threat of U.S. missile strikes helped pressure Syria into entering into negotiations to give up their chemical weapons.
Two of the president’s sharpest critics — Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — issued a joint statement slamming the president’s decision to try diplomacy: “What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement: They see it as an act of provocative weakness on America’s part. We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for nuclear weapons.”
Americans remain opposed to any military action against the Syrian regime but understand that the threat of force compelled al-Assad to admit that Syria does in fact possess chemical weapons, while at the same time sparking movement toward a diplomatic solution between the U.S., Russia, and Syria.
The administration was unsuccessful in convincing Americans that a military strike in Syria was essential to national security. While 47 percent believe that President Obama successfully made a persuasive case for action against Syria (opposed to 32 percent who thought he was unpersuasive), only 30 percent are in favor of a military strike, and just 45 percent believe America’s interests were at stake.
Despite attempts to paint the president and his policies toward Syria as weak, most Americans hold a different view.
“There is just no evidence Americans see this through the prism favored by elite pundits—that adapting to shifting circumstances is not ‘resolute’ or ‘decisive,’ and is therefore inherently a bad thing that has ‘weakened’ the president and the country,” The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reported.
Only 32 percent of respondents said the president’s decision to seek diplomacy and back down from military action weakened the country — 46 percent believe it made no difference to U.S. leadership in the world.
“Strikes were a bad idea,” Sargent wrote. “The public continues to say so. The opportunity of diplomacy presented itself. Obama took that opportunity. The public supports that decision. Does anyone really imagine Americans care whether it was a verbal flub by John Kerry — or a changing of mind in response to new circumstances — that put us on the road to the outcome they want?”
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