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

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends 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.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
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 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 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 US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
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.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs