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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs