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Foreign Focus Takes a Negative Toll on Washington

Why has the attention to foreign affairs taken a toll on Washington? Because the American public opposes direct engagement abroad.

Foreign focus takes a negative toll on Washington

Another week, another focus on the latest foreign-policy crisis. The newest one, of course, concerns the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the circumstantial evidence points to Russia supplying the weapon that brought down the airplane. “We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar. We also know, from voice identification, that the separatists were bragging about shooting it down afterwards.” But here’s something worth noting during this latest foreign-policy crisis: Almost every time there has been a big focus on foreign affairs -- with the exception of Osama bin Laden’s death -- it’s taken a negative toll on Washington. Think last year’s standoff over Syria’s chemical weapons. Last month’s increased hostilities in Iraq. The renewed violence between Israel and Hamas. And now more attention on the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Why has that focus taken a toll on Washington? Because the American public opposes direct engagement abroad.

Why? The public wants the U.S. to be less active abroad, not more

The latest evidence of this is a new Politico poll conducted of 2014 battleground voters. “Asked whether the U.S should do more to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine, just 17 percent answered in the affirmative. Thirty-one percent said the current policy is correct and 34 percent said the U.S. should be less involved. The poll was completed before the downing last week of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, the civilian airliner that was apparently attacked over eastern Ukraine. More than three-quarters of likely voters say they support plans to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. Only 23 percent oppose the plan. Forty-four percent of likely voters favor less involvement in Iraq’s civil war, versus 19 percent who favor more involvement.” Those findings mirror last week’s result from our NBC/WSJ/Annenberg poll, which showed 65% of Americans saying the nation’s biggest challenges are domestic ones, compared with 23% who said things happening outside the U.S. are more challenging. And in April, our NBC/WSJ poll found 47% of Americans saying the U.S. should be LESS ACTIVE in world affairs, versus 19% who said MORE ACTIVE. Bottom line: The American public wants its politicians to focus on matters at home, not abroad, even when international events dominate the headlines.

Latest developments in Eastern Ukraine

Meanwhile, here are the latest developments out of Eastern Ukraine, per the New York Times. “A pair of Dutch forensics experts finally gained access on Monday to the remains of the victims from the downed Malaysia Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine after days of standoffs over access to the site and growing pressure on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to clear the way for a full international investigation.” Putin also released a statement, “saying that Russia would work to ensure that the conflict in eastern Ukraine moved from the battlefield to the negotiating table. He said that a robust international investigating team must have secure access to the crash site, but also accused unspecified nations of exploiting the disaster in pursuit of ‘mercenary political goals.’” It’s noteworthy, though, that Putin isn’t denying that separatists played a role in the destruction of Malaysian Flight 17.

Deadliest day in Gaza

Sunday marked the bloodiest day in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. “Around 35,000 residents fled a Gaza neighborhood on Sunday after a night of relentless Israeli shelling killed at least 110 and left its streets strewn with bodies, including those of children,” NBC News reported. “Witnesses said airstrikes and land and naval shellings were the heaviest in 13 days of fighting. Israel said it had expanded its ground offensive in Gaza and militants kept up rocket fire into the Jewish state with no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough to end the worst fighting between Israel and Hamas in two years.” A hot-mic moment for Secretary of State John Kerry -- apparently regarding the violence in the Middle East -- got attention yesterday. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation. It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry said to an aide when he was wired up to speak on Fox News Sunday. “The comments were without context, but Mr. Wallace’s questioning and Mr. Kerry’s reply seemed to make clear that the secretary had been speaking ironically about a “pinpoint operation” to express that he was disturbed by the deaths of Palestinian civilians, including many children, in an operation aimed at the militant extremists who have been smuggling arms into Gaza and raining rockets on Israel,” the Times writes.

Iran turns over all of its enriched uranium

Amid all the chaos internationally, here is one potential bright spot, especially regarding a top Obama administration priority. The BBC: “Iran has turned all of its enriched uranium closest to the level needed to make nuclear arms into more harmless forms, the UN nuclear agency says. The conversion of its stock of 20%-enriched uranium was part of a deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme. The US said last week it would unblock $2.8bn in frozen Iranian funds in return for Iran's compliance. A four-month extension to talks on Iran's nuclear ambitions was agreed on Friday between Iran and world powers.”

Obama to sign executive order barring discrimination of gays and lesbians

At 10:15 am ET, President Obama signs an executive order barring federal contractors for discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And after the Hobby Lobby decision, the executive order WILL NOT contain an exemption for religiously affiliated groups, the Washington Post reported over the weekend. “Obama announced last month that he would sign such an order after concluding that Congress was not going to act on a broader measure prohibiting discrimination based on sexual discrimination or gender identity by companies. Since then, faith leaders have urged him to include an exemption for government contractors with a religious affiliation, such as some social service agencies. White House officials said Friday that the new executive order would not include such an exception. But Obama will preserve an exemption put in place by former president George W. Bush that allows religiously affiliated contractors to favor employees of a certain religion in making hiring decisions.” Gay-rights groups are praising Obama’s executive order. “The order, profoundly consequential in its own right, dramatically underscores President Obama’s own LGBT legacy of achievement, unmatched in history,” the Human Rights Campaign said a statement.

Senate dysfunction

The Washington Post also writes about the legislative dysfunction taking place in the U.S. Senate. “The Senate went three months this spring without voting on a single legislative amendment, the nitty-gritty kind of work usually at the heart of congressional lawmaking. So few bills have been approved this year, and so little else has gotten done, that many senators say they are spending most of their time on insignificant and unrewarding work,” the Post says. “Senators say that they increasingly feel like pawns caught between Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose deep personal and political antagonisms have almost immobilized the Senate.”

Kingston vs. Perdue restarts primary season

And tomorrow, the midterm primary season picks back up with the Senate GOP runoff in Georgia between Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) and businessman David Perdue. Per MSNBC’s Michael LaRosa, the runoff takes place NINE WEEKS after the original May 20 primary, in which Kingston and Perdue finished first and second, respectively. More from LaRosa: “In their lone runoff debate, Kingston pounded Perdue as an aloof -- and out-of-touch -- business titan. ‘Your whole lifestyle is based in a different way,’ Kingston told Perdue. ‘You live inside a gate inside a gated community with a gate on your house.’ Perdue, meanwhile, argued that Kingston was part of the problem in Washington. ‘Folks, the congressman has been in Washington for 22 years,’ he said. ‘The decision in this race is very simple: If you like what is going on in Washington, then vote for my opponent.’” The winner faces Democrat Michelle Nunn in the general election.

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