WASHINGTON -- The rallying cry at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference here last week was that President Obama had failed to show strength on foreign policy, but a new CNN poll found that even among Republicans, few support U.S. military involvement -- or even military assistance -- in the Ukraine crisis.
A plurality of respondents (48%) approved of Obama’s handling of the situation in Ukraine, the poll found. That figure was higher than the president's overall job-approval rating, which has hovered in the low 40s.
Russia has sent troops into the Crimean peninsula and encouraged what Obama has called an “illegal” referendum on March 16 that is to decide whether Crimea secedes from Ukraine to become part of Russia.
About 59% of poll respondents said they favored imposing economic sanctions on Russia -- a move that the president put in play last week when he authorized the Treasury secretary to freeze the assets of people found to be involved in subverting Ukraine's democracy or invading its territory.
However, fewer than half, 46%, said they favored providing economic assistance to the Ukrainian government. Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled to Kiev last week to offer $1 billion in loan guarantees, part of what the administration hopes will be a larger aid package led by European nations.
Some Republicans, most notably Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have argued that the administration should be taking a more forceful approach toward supporting democratic forces around the world, particularly in nations such as Ukraine and Egypt. In Ukraine, “I do not see a military option, and it's tragic,” McCain recently told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
CNN’s poll numbers indicate there is little public appetite for any sort of military involvement in Ukraine, even among Republicans, after a decade of intense engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Overall, 17% of respondents -- including 16% of Republicans -- said they favored airstrikes against Russian troops in Ukraine.
Twelve percent said the Obama administration should send in ground troops -- 16% of Republicans said that was a good idea, compared with 11% of Democrats and independents, respectively.
Most striking, fewer than a quarter of Republicans, Democrats or independents surveyed favored sending weapons and other military supplies to help the Ukrainian government -- and more Democrats than Republicans favored offering economic assistance, 56% to 43%.
As the Republican Party wrestles over its message, those kinds of findings could bolster the presidential aspirations of a candidate such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has risen to prominence in part with his calls for a quicker withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and his insistence that the U.S. should be spending more of its resources rebuilding at home.
At the CPAC gathering, where young libertarians played an important role, Paul handily won a straw poll measuring enthusiasm among core conservatives for possible 2016 presidential contenders.
Paul’s speech received one of the most enthusiastic responses at the three-day event but, in a stark contrast with his rivals, he did not mention Russia once.
[Clarification, 9:14 a.m. PDT March 11: An earlier version of this post indicated that some Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have argued that the Obama administration should be taking a more forceful approach in the Ukraine crisis. They have argued for such an approach toward supporting democratic forces around the world, particularly in nations such as Ukraine and Egypt.]