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.

You May Like

Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Feasts centering on turkeys with an array of traditional sides and desserts are part of the holiday's traditions, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

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.
US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Paradei
X
Anush Avetisyan
November 26, 2014 10:57 PM
Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid