News / USA

    Ukraine Adds to Obama’s Political Woes

    President Obama delivers remarks on the situation in Ukraine from the press briefing room at the White House in Washington February 28, 2014
    President Obama delivers remarks on the situation in Ukraine from the press briefing room at the White House in Washington February 28, 2014
    By now, President Barack Obama probably has a pretty good understanding of what is meant by the term, “Second Term Blues.”  The president’s approval rating in leading polls is heading into dangerously low territory.  The latest Fox News poll found the president dipping below 40 percent approval for the first time, down to 38 percent positive, 54 percent negative.  And now adding to his woes over health care, the deficit and gridlock with Congress is the situation in Ukraine.

    In the past, the public has seen Mr. Obama’s handling of foreign policy as a strong point.  Some political strategists believe the president sealed his re-election fate on May 2, 2011, when U.S. Navy Seals carried out the raid that killed al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan.   Mr. Obama went from an untested U.S. senator with limited foreign policy experience to a president who wound down the U.S. involvement in Iraq, continued the allied effort to secure Afghanistan and kept the homeland secure.  He effectively neutralized Republican critics of his foreign policy in the 2012 campaign after a decade of Democrats being on the defensive with Republicans in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001.

    But now President Obama is under fire from Republicans over his handling of the Ukraine crisis.  Mr. Obama’s 2008 Republican opponent, Arizona Senator John McCain, called his foreign policy “feckless.”  Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who seems heir-apparent to McCain’s unofficial role as a kind of shadow defense minister, blasted Mr. Obama as a “weak and indecisive president (who) invites aggression.”  Some conservative columnists have also drawn comparisons with former President Jimmy Carter, who was pilloried by Republicans at the time for what they saw as a weak response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran.

    President Obama is moving to avoid those comparisons by quickly imposing financial sanctions and travel bans on Russians and others who oppose the new government in Ukraine.  In addition, Democrats are hitting back at the Republican claims.  The Democratic National Committee sent out some talking points to loyalists, noting that Republicans did not blame President George W. Bush when Russia invaded neighboring Georgia in 2008.  The memo also urges Republicans to work with Democrats to ensure that the United States presents a united front in the crisis in a constructive way instead of trying to undermine leadership during a moment of international peril.

    Republican fault lines

    The crisis in Ukraine is also revealing some early fault lines among potential Republican presidential contenders for 2016 on the issue of foreign policy.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio is calling for a more robust U.S. response to Russia.  He told a group of conservatives meeting outside Washington this week that the U.S. is the only nation “capable of rallying and bringing together the free people on this planet to stand up to the spread of totalitarianism.”  Rubio is eager to draw a contrast with another leading contender for 2016, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.  Paul is much more leery of U.S. military interventions abroad though his spokesman says he “rejects the label of isolationism.”

    Events like the Ukraine crisis often have a kind of residual political impact on U.S. voters.  The American public wants to believe that the U.S. remains the most powerful nation on earth and that it still has the influence to shape overseas events to its advantage.  But the reality is in the modern world the U.S. often has limited ways to influence adversaries, especially when the adversaries know that Americans are war-weary after lengthy campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  The public is risk-averse to the idea of deploying U.S. forces into conflict zones at the moment, something Mr. Obama and his advisers have to take into account as they consider their options on Ukraine and any number of other foreign policy challenges.

    2016 could see the re-emergence of a more hawkish Republican view on foreign policy embodied by possible White House contenders like Senator Rubio.  But even Republicans are mindful that America remains a war-weary nation and that any inclination to project U.S. military might abroad must be accompanied by a diligent effort on the home front to build domestic support and present achievable goals.

    The looming midterms

    The timing of the Ukraine situation is complicating Mr. Obama’s efforts to help his fellow Democrats avoid a disaster at the polls in November when the entire House of Representatives and 36 of 100 Senate seats will be on the midterm ballot.  Most analysts see little chance that Democrats can take back control of the House, which Republicans won in 2010 thanks to a spirited effort by Tea Party conservatives on behalf of Republican candidates.

    The real battle this year will be for control of the U.S. Senate.  Republicans need a gain of six seats to win a majority in the Senate in November and right now it appears they have an excellent chance to achieve that.  Many of the close races this year involve incumbent Democrats trying to win re-election in states where Republicans are strong, such as Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina.  Democrats have few chances to take away a Republican Senate seat so they must play defense in an environment in which the president is unpopular and core Democratic voters are largely unmotivated.

    Foreign policy generally does not play a major role in midterm congressional contests.  Voters will focus on economic issues and the Republicans will try to gin up conservative voter turnout by beating the drums of opposition to Obamacare, the president’s signature health care law.  But if voters take a dim view of the president’s handling of the crisis in Ukraine, it could help further depress his poll ratings and that could have some damaging consequences for Democrats running in November.

    Historically the party that holds the White House for two presidential terms loses seats in the second midterm election.  The other constant here is presidential approval ratings.  Presidents with poor ratings tend to suffer party losses in Congress, sometimes of a substantial nature.  Democrats last won the House in 2006 during President George W. Bush’s second congressional midterm election.  Mr. Bush’s popularity had taken a steep dive because of the Iran War and his administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina.

    Candidate Barack Obama was able to win the presidency in 2008 in part because of the intense Bush fatigue among the American public during his second term.  Now President Obama wants to avoid the same political fate and risk setting the stage for a Republican to move into the White House in January of 2017 and possibly for Republicans to control both the House and Senate as well after the 2016 elections.

    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    March 08, 2014 7:47 AM
    Fox news is not a reliable source pObama's approval rating.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.