Opinion: Polls, but not rhetoric, favor Obama

September 20, 2013


— How did it happen that less than a year after Barack Obama convincingly won re-election, his every move as president now draws hoots and catcalls from nearly every point on the political spectrum?

Perhaps his Syria policy really is a story of “epic incompetence,” as Charles Krauthammer opined last week. Maybe he has an “unbelievably small” presidency, as Marc Thiessen commented, or that no one is afraid of him, as Ruth Marcus argued. And that’s just a sampling of opinion from my colleagues at The Washington Post.

What’s puzzling about this latest Obama-phobia is that recent developments in Syria have generally been positive from the standpoint of U.S. interests. Obama has accomplished goals that most Americans endorse, given the unpalatable menu of choices.

Polls suggest that the public overwhelmingly backs the course Obama has chosen. Asked in a Washington Post-ABC News survey if they endorsed the U.S.-Russian plan to dismantle Syrian chemical weapons as an alternative to missile strikes, 79 percent were supportive. Yet elite opinion is sharply negative.

Here’s what I see when I deconstruct the Syria story:

l Russia has been drawn into a process of collecting and destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal. This has been a goal of U.S. policy for two years. It finally worked thanks in part to Obama’s pledge to use military force to punish Syria if the Russians didn’t step up. In this messy world, there is considerable value in agreement by Moscow and Washington on the “soonest and safest” destruction of Syrian chemical weapons, with a timetable for implementation.

l The United Nations has taken new steps to affirm the international norm against use of chemical weapons. The 41-page report delivered this week to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon isn’t a joke, as some predicted; it’s a surprisingly thorough, careful documentation of the horrific attack on Aug. 21. The report doesn’t directly accuse Syrian President Bashar Assad of using the weapons; assessing blame unfortunately wasn’t part of the U.N. mandate. But the evidence demolishes the absurd Russian-Syrian claim that the weapons were used by the rebels.

If you’re frustrated by a feckless and unreliable U.N., you should be encouraged by a line in the opening paragraph of the report: “The international community has a moral responsibility to hold accountable those responsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.” 

l The U.S. and Russia have restarted their push for negotiations in Geneva toward a cease-fire and a political transition in Syria. Yes, it’s unfortunate that Assad is still in power, but is his hold really stronger now that he has been forced to admit he has chemical weapons and agreed to destroy them? I’m not so sure. The U.S. and Russia have agreed to meet in New York in late September with U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi to continue this political process. The Russians know that Assad must go eventually; they’ve now moved a little closer to a framework for beginning the transition. Suggestion: Assad’s official “term of office” expires next year.

l Amid all this diplomacy, Obama has pressed ahead with a covert program of training and assistance for the moderate Syrian rebel forces headed by Gen. Salim Idriss. My Syrian sources say that as these CIA-trained commandos take the field, they make a difference: They begin to tip the balance away from the jihadist fighters associated with al-Qaida, who (as the Russians correctly warn) are a dangerously potent factor in the opposition.

The showdown that’s ahead between the moderates and extremists was signaled this week when the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams announced a military campaign emphatically code-named “Expunging Filth” against two of Idriss’ brigades in Aleppo. This second Syrian war is coming, and even the Russians may end up relieved that the CIA is training fighters who can counter the jihadists.

The mystery is why this outcome in Syria is derided by so many analysts in Washington. Partly, it must be the John McCain factor. The Arizona senator is in danger of becoming a kind of Republican version of Jesse Jackson, who shows up at every international crisis with his own plan for a solution, sometimes through personal mediation (as with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt), other times demanding military intervention (as in Syria). Because McCain is a distinguished figure, he commands respect, even when his proposals have no political support at home.

Not so, Obama. He can propose what the country wants, and succeed at it, and still get hammered as a failure.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Abdu Omar 4 years, 9 months ago

I think that this is politics. He wins in his actions but gets hammered because it wasn't the way the Republicans wanted it. I think the Republicans want him to fail and when he doesn't they slam him anyway.

I am deeply saddened that we can't work together to make this country stronger and better for both rich and not rich. But when you have so much hate between parties, that is hard to do. Don't we want our lawmakers to work for us and not their party? Don't we want them to find the right way and pursue it no matter whose idea it is? We must relieve them from their jobs in 2014 and let new ones try to make us better.

tomatogrower 4 years, 9 months ago

I think it might be a good idea to relieve all of them over and over for the next few years. I think it would loosen the grip that their contributors have on them, and make them truly public servants again. We can send a message through the voting booth this way, if we can just get people to do it, and to vote.

Seth Peterson 4 years, 9 months ago

Excellent article, it could be summed up much quicker by just stating that regardless of Obama's actions or results, Republicans in power will balk and continue to politicize every issue, refuse to acknowledge any success and berate every failure. They have made it abundantly clear they only care about an 8 year smear campaign (since the 4 year plan did not work) in order to try to get the Presidency back, rather than even attempting to accomplish anything.

In_God_we_trust 4 years, 9 months ago

I don't agree with most of the corrupt policies that have come out of the democratic party and the Obama Administration. It's not a surprise that Congress locks up because the President and the democratic party will not work with Congress. Now maybe with the funding of the government at risk, the democrats will try to compromise for a pleasant change and help the country by cutting funding for ACA/Obamacare.

lajeanne 4 years, 9 months ago

 your "congress" must consist of only republicans.  I thought there were democrats in there too.  The USA is made of democrats and republicans.  I think the democrats think up ways to solve problems (the workers) and the republicans are too busy condemning the democrats to do anything else like coming up with a plan to help people of both parties prosper and pay taxes.  Medical costs are high because we all already pay the bills for people who don't have insurance.  Obamacare isn't threatening the funding of the government.  Congress is-those republicans.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 9 months ago

We like elections. No one likes governance because, as GW once said, "It's hard, hard work. You even have to read stuff and work some weekends."

Fossick 4 years, 9 months ago

"The mystery is why this outcome in Syria is derided by so many analysts in Washington."

It's not really a mystery: Washington loves war. They love lobbing bombs and training commandos and bullying other countries. Obama, being part of Washington, has showed that he's all about that, too, and was gung-ho to start lobbing until middle America decided not to go along with this one. I'm glad someone is finally learning.

That Obama and his feckless SecState flopped and fumbled their way into the best possible solution - doing nothing - is not to his credit, even if it is to our benefit.

lajeanne 4 years, 9 months ago

why are we still talking about this? Can we quit the blame game. there are new problems that need fixed now, before they turn into disasters too. This country is democratic. No one person, even our president, makes any decisions by himself. .

Paul R Getto 4 years, 9 months ago

To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war. Winston Churchill

Sadly, our current politicians do both to excess.

Fossick 4 years, 9 months ago

"why are we still talking about this?"

My goodness, I didn't realize that it's already a week old. That's ancient history already. And since it could never, ever happen again, especially not in Iran - where one senator is already trying to raise support for preemptive war crimes - there's no reason to examine the options that were available and understand the choices that were made.

And besides, the Emmys are coming up."Behind the Candelabra," FTW!

In_God_we_trust 4 years, 9 months ago

Actually the democrats in the Senate could resolve this and help the country with the republicans by passing the House government funding bill on to the President and drop Obamacare. The fact that democrats and the President don't want to drop Obamacare, is what threatens the US not paying bills, not the republicans. The republicans want to fund the government so they can pay their bills. The President is the one that said he won't work with Congress by dropping Obamacare, which is what the people want. The President will bear the full blame on this if he chooses to not pass government funding and drop Obamacare. The House with some democrats passed the government funding-Obamacare funding cut bill. Here is a refresher on how the disaster of Obamacare came to be:

"More than three years ago, Congress passed a massive health insurance law without one Republican vote and in the face of significant public opposition. This 2,700 page bill was rammed through Congress in the early morning hours on Christmas Eve. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi even said Congress had to pass the bill so that we could find out what is in it. While the President promised the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would lower health care costs and strengthen our health care system, the reality is the law is increasing health insurance premiums, slowing economic recovery, and hindering job growth."

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