But rather than trying to read the public’s response in ideological terms, maybe it’s more reasonable to look at what the two stories had in common: They both made the White House look incompetent.
By this I mean that whether you thought Snowden was a hero or a traitor, the fact that a junior-level Booz Allen Hamilton contractor was able to swipe a trove of significant state secrets, pass them along to various media outlets, and then find his way to sanctuary in a hostile power did not exactly reflect well on the way American intelligence does business under this president. And then again, whether you thought that intervention in Syria was the wisest course or not, the uncertain, haphazard, and politically incompetent course that the president took to non-intervention left the distinct impression that the White House lacked anything resembling a strategy for dealing with one of the larger crises taking place on its watch. In both cases, in other words, people could disagree on the ends they wanted while agreeing that they were watching a setback, a fumble, a bollix, an embarrassment.
My point is not that ideology doesn’t enter into the way the public judges foreign policy. I just suspect that it’s more likely to be a trailing than a leading indicator — that an unsuccessful intervention makes once-hawkish voters feel more anti-interventionist, that a seemingly successful “realist” turn can make voters feel comfortable with realism, and that a subsequent display of incompetence can open the door to critiques of every ideological stripe.