The White House got some good news in today’s Washington Post/ABC News poll, which framed the situation in Iraq prior to the beheading of Foley. The majority of Americans support Barack Obama’s decision to conduct airstrikes on ISIS. The bad news? It hasn’t impacted the approval rating of Obama on that issue at all, even though support for the policy has risen sharply over the last two months:
A majority of Americans now support airstrikes in Iraq, up 9 points since June, as President Obama targets an Islamist extremist group, according to a new poll.
The Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 54 percent support the strikes hitting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), while 39 percent oppose them. …
In June, before the operation began, 45 percent supported airstrikes, while 46 percent were opposed. At that point, Obama had said only that the U.S. was prepared to take military action if necessary.
The rise in support for the policy is easy to explain. The media didn’t cover the ethno-religious cleansing of Christian communities in Mosul and Nineveh in the spring to nearly the same extent as they did the genocidal threat to the Yazidis, which dimmed the reaction to the former. The imagery of the men, women, and children trapped in the mountains without food and water created a reaction of global outrage and a demand to do something to alleviate the situation. The settlement of the Iraqi political situation may play into that too, allowing Americans to feel as though the effort didn’t amount to becoming Nouri al-Maliki’s personal air force.
Obama deserves credit for taking action, if belatedly and perhaps not as robustly as some would like. So far, though, Americans aren’t inclined to think that his policies in Iraq have improved. His approval rating in June on the question was 42/52, and today it’s 42/51. In fact, slightly more strongly disapprove now (36%, from 34%) and slightly fewer strongly approve (16% from 17%) than in June, although all of those moves are within the margin of error.
Interestingly, the American public likes the air strikes, but not arming the Kurds, which seems like more of a slam-dunk. A slight plurality opposes providing arms to the Kurds fighting ISIS, 49/45. Those who feel strongly about this have an even bigger gap toward opposition, 29/22. That’s a shame, because the Peshmerga has been an effective force in tandem with Iraqi special forces and the air strikes, as the New York Times reports today:
All bore testament to the deadly effect American airstrikes were having on the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, who until this month were marauding over northern Iraq with little resistance and who two weeks ago seized control of the dam.
It was not until President Obama authorized airstrikes by the United States military on Aug. 7 that the Sunni fighters’ advance was halted. Two days of concerted air assaults starting Sunday around the dam then paved the way for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim the site. …
The pesh merga have received the majority of the credit for retaking the dam. But the Iraqi Special Forces troops who worked alongside them, who were created in the image of their American counterparts, have gotten far less attention. Known as the Golden Force, fighters interviewed Tuesday said they came from Baghdad and were called into the fight several days ago.
One Special Forces group, stationed by a cluster of homes close to the site’s power plant, said they were the first to enter the area after a series of airstrikes Monday afternoon. A cheery banner over the road passing by the enclave read “Tourist City in Mosul Dam.”
The fight against ISIS will have to be waged by someone that can retake ground from the terrorist army that controls it. If Americans don’t want to send US forces to do that job, the Peshmerga look like a pretty good option, as long as they can get arms and ammunition for the fight.