Obama defends his foreign policy record: It might not always be sexy

McClatchy Washington BureauApril 28, 2014 

President Barack Obama offered a defense of his foreign policy record Monday as his administration ramped up sanctions against Russian officials and companies -- and Republicans pressed him to do more.

Obama countered that most of the criticism of his foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force -- in Ukraine and in Syria.

“Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget? And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?” Obama said, asked a press conference in the Philippines about criticism of his record. “My job as Commander-in-Chief is to deploy military force as a last resort, and to deploy it wisely. And, frankly, most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests.”

Republicans on Monday called the administration’s response toward Ukraine too timid and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., called for the administration to send more military aid to Ukraine -- a suggestion Obama dismissed.

“Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?” he said. “Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying?”

He argued that his approach had solidified alliances, pointing to the Asia Pacific as an example.

“We are much better positioned to work with the peoples here on a whole range of issues of mutual interest,” he said. “That may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows. But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run. But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”

A new national survey suggests Americans have a deep ambivalence about a deeper involvement in the crisis in Ukraine.

The poll by the Pew Research Center and USA TODAY finds the public supports increased U.S. economic and diplomatic sanctions by a 53 percent to 36 percent margin. But by roughly two-to-one -- 62 percent to 30 percent -- Americans oppose sending arms and military supplies to the Ukrainian government.

The survey, conducted April 23-27 among 1,501 adults, finds only slight partisan differences in opinions about U.S. policy toward the situation in Ukraine. More than half of Republicans -- 55 percent - and Democrats -- 58 percent -- favor increased sanctions against Russia and majorities in both parties oppose arming the Ukrainian government.

Yet only about a third of Americans -- 31 percent -- think that what happens between Russia and Ukraine is “very important” to the United States; 36 percent say events in the region are somewhat important to the U.S. while 29 percent say they are not too important or not at all important. Young adults under 30 are among the least likely to view the situation as important to the U.S.

There are large partisan differences in opinions of President Barack Obama’s handling of the crisis in Ukraine: More than half of Republicans -- 55 percent -- say Obama has not been tough enough, compared with 33 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats.

The findings mirror a McClatchy poll earlier this month that found voters gave Obama mixed reviews for his handling of Russia’s move to lop off Ukraine’s Crimea region, but offered offer no clear view of how the U.S. should respond to the crisis.

“Issues very often have huge partisan polarization and some clear marching orders, but this doesn’t have that,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in New York.

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