There could be a reason many Americans are turning inward, as President Barack Obama makes a case for enforcing international norms of humanity on another foreign front.
The trust that Americans place in the federal government’s ability to handle international problems has reached an all-time low in four decades of surveys, Gallup reports today.
Slightly fewer than half of those surveyed — 49 percent — voice great or fair confidence.
The other bad news for the Obama administration is that public confidence in the government’s ability to handle domestic problems has reached a similar nadir: 42 percent, down from 51 percent last year. This is also a four-decade low, down from a peak of 77 percent in 2002.
This snapshot was taken Sept. 5-8, in a survey of 1,510 adults, as the president was making his case for a U.S. military strike against Syria because of its evident deployment of chemical weapons.
Public opinion has run against the president on this, with opposition growing during the past week alone, as the Pew Research Center reported. Obama, addressing the nation Sept. 10, said he would refrain from seeking congressional approval for military force as the U.S. pursues negotiations with Syria brokered by Russia.
“We’re not talking about war, we’re not going to war,” Secretary John Kerry has said, speaking of the administration’s plans for a “limited” and ”proportional” strike — ``unbelievably small,” he said at one point this week.
This is “not Iraq” and “not Afghanistan,” the administration maintains. “I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afganistan,” Obama said in his televised address from the White House. “It’s no wonder then that you’re asking hard questions,” he said. “My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not permit an open-ended action… This would be a targeted strike” with “a clear objective.”
For now, this is Paris, or more specifically Geneva — where Kerry is attempting to negotiate with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a plan to confiscate and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. At the same time, the White House’s Jay Carney warns: “There is certainly reason to be skeptical… We are entering this with our eyes wide open.”
The new all-time low in public confidence on international matters recorded over four decades of Gallup Polling is slightly lower than the 51 percent confidence voiced in 2007, during the depths of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These results stem from an annual governance survey, and represent a remarkable decline from last year, when confidence stood at 66 percent, as the U.S. was withdrawing combat troops from Iraq and planning its exit from Afghanistan. The previous peak in confidence, 83 percent, was recorded in October 2001, as the U.S. was making an aggressive response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Newport’s Frank Newport and Joy Wilke write:
“Between 57 percent and 66 percent of Americans said they had a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in the U.S. government to handle international problems during Obama’s first term. This represents a generally higher level of confidence than Americans expressed during the latter years of the Bush administration, when the U.S. was engaged in protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“The historical high point on this measure (83 percent) came in October 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Americans also expressed high levels of confidence in the government on international matters in 1972 and 1974, when the question was first asked, even as the controversial Vietnam War was drawing to a close.”
As usual, there is a partisan break in these numbers.
“Partisans have historically answered these confidence questions based on their evaluations of the party holding the presidency,” they write. “In 2007, during the Bush administration, 81 percent of Republicans had a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the federal government on international problems, and 66 percent of Republicans expressed trust on domestic problems, while Democrats and independents expressed much lower confidence on each.”
The results carry a possible margin of error of 3 percent.