No, I am not going to try to make the case that foreign policy will be at the forefront of this year’s elections, or that international issues are a high priority for most Americans. They aren’t.
But foreign policy could have an indirect yet significant impact on the midterm elections, making the issue more relevant than you otherwise might assume.
The growing perception that President Barack Obama over-promised and has under-delivered on international issues could add to the already hardening perception that his presidency has not been an unadulterated success. And that’s not good for vulnerable Democrats as the elections approach.
For most partisan Democrats, the suggestion that the president has failed on foreign policy is simply mistaken. They will note that he ended two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, has taken steps to address the nuclear threat from Iran, and has tried to mobilize international opinion, and action, against military force used by Syria and Russia.
But even some Democrats have been critical of President Obama’s approach.
“. . .It’s been a mixed record,” said former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to the New York Times, “and the concern is, the president defining what America’s role in the world is in the 21st century hasn’t happened.”
Whatever you think about the Affordable Care Act, the president’s performance on jobs and the administration’s efforts to raise the minimum wage, extend unemployment insurance and enact “equal pay” legislation, the White House’s approach to foreign policy — most recently on Syria, Ukraine, Russia and Middle East peace — has too often seemed naïve.
In April of 2007, during his race for the White House against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama told an audience at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, “The disappointment that so many around the world feel toward America right now is only a testament to the high expectations they hold for us. We must meet those expectations again, not because being respected is an end in itself, but because the security of America and the wider world demands it.”
Almost two years after that Chicago speech and a little more than two months into his presidency, Americans did believe that the new president had improved the United States’ image abroad. But those numbers have slipped noticeably since then.
In February of 2009, according to the Gallup Poll, more than two out of three Americans surveyed (67 percent) said that “leaders of other countries around the world have respect for Barack Obama.” One year later, only 56 perfect answered the same way, and a year after that a bare majority, 51 percent, said that the president was respected by other countries’ leaders.
That figure remained virtually unchanged in polling conducted in early 2012 and 2013, but this year, Gallup found only 41 percent of Americans believing that Obama was respected by leaders of other countries, while 53 percent said that those leaders “don’t have much respect” for Obama.
“Democrats and independents are mainly responsible for the slide in Obama’s ratings,” concluded Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones in a Feb. 24 post on the company’s website.