WASHINGTON — When all has been said and done, Obama’s approval rating may not be as polarized as that of his predecessor, but his views on foreign policy and international relations are still subject to significant scrutiny. From the pivotal defeat of Osama bin Laden to the scandalous revelations of Edward Snowden, the spotlights set upon Obama’s figure cast a tall shadow. Regardless of any judgmental errors, the benefits of the president’s responses to other countries ultimately outweigh the drawbacks.
Obama may not have been among the Navy SEALs who undertook the strike upon bin Laden himself, but the fact remains that it happened during his presidency. Former President Bush publicly promised Americans that the notorious terrorist would be brought down; Obama ordered the risky attack that finished the job.
The president went a step further by taking steps toward diplomatic relations with the Middle East. In Obama’s first interview, during his first term, he declared to Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya—an Arab satellite station—“My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.”
Yet the collective memory of that interview has become overshadowed by the controversial drone strike decision in 2013. Obama defended his choice in a speech saying, “To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties—not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places…where terrorists seek a foothold.”
To condemn Obama simply as a hypocrite in this situation would be to underestimate the complexities behind the political tensions in regards to military spending. The United States still holds the title for “World’s Largest Armies,” with approximately 1.14 million military troops located within its own borders. With grand totals for spending already reaching into the billions, is it not worthwhile to reduce the number of humans that Congress sends into danger zones such as the Middle East?
Still, the POTUS’s approval ratings as of last week hover three points below 50 percent. This stat is an improvement upon his all-time low of 31 percent in foreign policy approval last October, when voters’ opinions were deeply colored by the events surrounding Ukraine, Russia and Syria.
Obama managed to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Syria quickly, striking an agreement with Russia and the Syrian government that required the latter to destroy all chemical weapons located within its borders.
Although Ukraine is also struggling with crimes against humanity, the problems in that nation do not carry the intensity of threat to nearly the same degree as the nations of the Middle East. Ukraine’s is a conflict with roots spanning back to the years of the Soviet Union and its dissolution. The downfall of the Soviet regime left many of the Caucus states in desperate circumstances, with the ravages of political instability and poverty, but currently the bigger menace to U.S. security is the Middle East, whose extremists groups continue to overtly threaten American lives.
At the most recent State of the Union address, Obama indirectly approached the issue of his approval ratings by going off-script and exclaiming to the House, “I don’t have anymore campaigns to run…I know because I won both of them!” Optimistic as he seems though, Obama may very well earn a legacy as one of the most divisive presidents of the last 70 years.
– Leah Zazofsky