In laying out a plan to use U.S. air power, multinational partners and proxy fighters to "ultimately destroy" the Al Qaeda offshoot, Obama appears to have landed in a rare moment of bipartisan backing. Polls released over the weekend show that sizable majorities of both
But the support hasn't immediately translated into a clear political boost for the president or a surge of congressional support for him. In one survey, most Americans said they have little confidence that the plan will succeed and added that his remarks didn't change their opinion of Obama.
The skepticism reflects the months of sagging public confidence in the president, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs. A summer of crises in Ukraine, the Gaza Strip and Iraq and Syria has sunk Obama's approval rating to near lows in some polls. Both friend and foe have criticized the president for his seeming indecisiveness or tentative reaction to global trouble. Democrats running in tight races have kept a safe distance.
The doubts have been clear in
At a conference in Paris on Monday, key players Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates agreed to support the Iraqi government in its fight against Islamic State "by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance." But the statement made no reference to taking the fight to Syria, the extremist group's stronghold.
On the diplomatic front, the
Obama is slated Wednesday to visit U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., to huddle with advisors planning newly expanded military operations in Iraq and Syria. The visit will focus in part on how to manage the emerging coalition of allies, senior administration officials said Monday. The president is also expected to address troops at the base.
The visit will follow a similar briefing Tuesday at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where he'll outline a new effort to use U.S. military resources to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The schedule illustrates Obama's sustained engagement on national security issues, said senior administration officials, who would not be quoted talking about political strategy. They acknowledged there is more work to do in building support on Capitol Hill.
On Monday, Republican leaders unveiled an alternative to the White House's request to arm Syrian fighters who oppose the government of President
The GOP proposal would require the Pentagon to present to Congress its plan for vetting and arming a Syrian opposition group at least 15 days before the first time such support is provided, and update lawmakers every 90 days to determine whether it's working. A vote could come as soon as Wednesday.
Republicans' qualified support for Obama's strategy was in line with the public surveys. Six in 10 Democrats and a slightly larger share of Republicans said they backed Obama's plan, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Monday. Self-identified independents were more skeptical, but overall, Americans supported Obama's plan by about 53% to 29%, with 19% unsure, the poll found.
But the support came with sizable doubts.
Fewer than one-fifth of those surveyed by Pew said they thought U.S. military action would make America safer from a terrorist attack, and about one-third said they thought the U.S.-led campaign would increase the chances of being attacked.
Similarly, although nearly two-thirds of Americans said they supported Obama's strategy, 70% said they did not have confidence that it would succeed in degrading or eliminating the threat the group poses, according to a separate poll conducted after his speech last week by the Annenberg Center for NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.
That survey left little sign that Obama's prime-time speech outlining his strategy had changed his political standing. Twenty percent of respondents said they walked away with a less favorable opinion of the president, while 26% said they had a more favorable opinion. Most — 53% — said the speech made no difference. The poll showed his approval rating at about 40%.
Administration officials contended Monday that it matters less how the public views Obama and his handling of foreign policy in general than how it views his plans. On that measure, they noted, the president's policy scores well.
Still, there's little doubt his Democratic allies are watching the president's overall approval rating closely. Analysts say a rising anxiety about a new threat compounded by a broader mood of unease about the economy and discontent with Washington could mean only bad news for the president — and his party.
Allies said the president needs more time. After years of reluctance to reengage in new wars, the public, particularly Democrats, wants to be convinced that the involvement is limited and necessary.
"He has said it," said Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and, until recently, Obama's ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "Now, he has to say it twice, say it again, say it constantly."
Republicans had a harsher assessment.
Voters see "the president himself and his lack of foreign policy as part of the problem and the reason we're facing the problems we're facing right now," said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster and strategist.
Furthermore, Obama's speech had no clear demonstration of his new policy.
"It's going to take more than just words; it's going to take concrete action to change the president's public approval rating on foreign policy," said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. "Talk is cheap."