Obama’s Foreign Policy Approval Rating Drops After Mideast Turmoil

Patrick Goodenough | September 19, 2012 | 4:38am EDT
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Tunisian protestors burn a U.S. flag during a protest near the U.S. Embassy in Tunis on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

(CNSNews.com) – The first opinion poll to be conducted after last week’s deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya and a spate of anti-American protests across the Muslim world has recorded a five-point drop in approval for President Obama’s handling of foreign policy.

The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found the president’s foreign policy approval among registered voters at 49 percent, down from 54 percent one month earlier.

“The fall was steeper among independents, going from 53 percent in August to 41 percent,” NBC reported.

Across 18 NBC/WSJ polls that have tracked the issue since April 2009, the five-point drop is the second biggest recorded over a one-month period. (The biggest – seven points – came in June 2011, following a record-high approval bump the previous month which was likely linked to the killing of Osama bin Laden.)

Obama’s 49 percent foreign policy approval rating this week is the second lowest in the 18 polls. Only November 2010 was slightly lower – 48 percent – possibly reflecting the national mood after the Democrats’ poor showing in midterm elections, and/or a 10-day presidential trip to Asia not generally viewed as successful.

The new poll recorded Obama’s foreign policy disapproval rate at 46 percent, up from 40 since last month. That ties with the April 2011 result as the highest disapproval rate for the president’s handling of foreign policy, as measured by the 18 polls since shortly after he took office.

The poll did not directly seek respondents’ views on Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s foreign policy competency. The question that came closest asked whether Obama or Romney would make a better commander-in-chief; respondents favored Obama by 45-38 percent.

The survey was conducted Sept. 12-16, in the days following the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other American personnel at the hands of armed militants who launched a sustained assault on the consulate in Benghazi.

That attack, coupled with ongoing, sometimes violent, protests at U.S. embassies by Muslims purportedly angry over an online film mocking Mohammed, focused attention onto an area that has not featured prominently in the election campaign – U.S. foreign policy, particularly as it pertains to the Middle East.

Issues generating discussion and debate include questions about security precautions at U.S. missions in general and the Benghazi consulate in particular; disagreements between U.S. and Libyan authorities over whether the attack was pre-planned and what role – if any – was played by the Mohammed film; unhappiness over the generously U.S.-funded Egyptian government’s slow response to the breaching of the Cairo embassy compound; the issue of whether U.S. foreign aid to Egypt and Libya should be suspended; and more broadly, doubts about Obama’s outreach to Muslims and his administration’s approach to the so-called “Arab spring.”

‘New beginning?’

While campaigning for the presidency Obama presented himself as someone whose exotic background – an African Muslim father, boyhood years spent in Indonesia – would play well in the international community.

“As somebody who myself lived overseas for a time, the world would see me as a different kind of president, somebody who could see the world through their eyes,” he told a Daily Telegraph reporter in early 2008.

Afghan students stamp on an American flag during a protest in Nangarhar province east of Kabul on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

“If I convened a meeting with Muslim leaders around the world to discuss how they can align themselves against terrorism …,” he said, “I’d do so with the credibility of someone who has lived in a Muslim country. All these things can make a difference.”

After his election but before his inauguration, Obama indicated that he wanted during his first 100 days in office deliver a major address in a key Islamic capital aimed at improving America’s ties with the Muslim world.

He missed that goal, but on June 4, 2009 delivered that speech in Cairo, calling for a “new beginning” in U.S.-Muslim relations after “years of distrust.”

Despite Obama’s background and deliberate outreach to the Islamic world, international opinion polls have not found an improvement in America’s standing in the eyes of Muslims.

On a contrary, a major Pew Global Attitudes Project survey last June found that in four key Muslim countries – Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon – U.S. favorability ratings were even lower in 2012 than they were in 2008, the last year of a Republican administration accused in some Muslim circles of having “declared war on Islam” after 9/11.

Out of 14 countries included in the overall survey, only four were Muslim. And those were the only four that produced lower scores under Obama than under President Bush in 2008.

Similarly, a Zogby International poll in mid-2011 found that favorable views of the U.S. had dropped by more than half in six Arab countries over two years, from an average 33 percent in 2009 to 15 percent in 2011. The countries were Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

In Egypt, the Arab world’s most important country – and one that has received more than $60 billion in U.S. aid over the past three decades – poll results have been especially striking.

Obama’s handling of the Tahrir Square uprising early last year did not generate any obvious improvement in Egyptians’ views of the U.S. According to a Pew poll conducted two months after Hosni Mubarak’s departure, 79 percent of Egyptians viewed the U.S. in an unfavorable light – 10 percent more than the 69 percent measured in 2006.

Only 22 percent of respondents in that poll approved of the Obama administration’s approach to the uprising, while 39 percent said the American response had been negative.

In an analysis Tuesday, Jonathan Eyal, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, characterized Obama’s engagement as a failure, arguing that the current anti-American protests have more to do with U.S. foreign policy in the region than a reaction to the Mohammed film.

“All in all, the sad episode acts as a reminder of an American failure to persuade Arab nations that America can be their friend or, at the very least, is not their automatic foe,” he wrote.

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