More War in Iraq Is Not the Legacy Obama Wanted

US President Barack Obama delivers a prime time address from the Cross Hall of the White House on September 10, 2014 in Washington, DC.  Vowing to target the Islamic State with air strikes "wherever they exist", Obama pledged to lead a broad coalition to fight IS and work with "partner forces" on the ground in Syria and Iraq.  AFP PHOTO/POOL/Saul LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
US President Barack Obama delivers a prime time address from the Cross Hall of the White House on September 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. Vowing to target the Islamic State with air strikes "wherever they exist", Obama pledged to lead a broad coalition to fight IS and work with "partner forces" on the ground in Syria and Iraq. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Saul LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty ImagesSAUL LOEB / AFP - Getty Images

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A president who first won the office due to his opposition to the Iraq war and then who won re-election, in part, by touting the end of that war announced to the nation Wednesday night that he was launching a new war in the region -- against the terrorist group ISIS. As our colleague Andrea Mitchell put it so well: This is hardly the legacy that President Obama wanted. And it helps to explain why it took him so long to announce it. In his primetime speech from the White House, the president said the campaign against ISIS would be a sustained counterterrorism strategy similar to how the administration is combating terrorism in places like Yemen and Somalia -- with airstrikes and support but no U.S. combat troops. He said the United States had assembled a coalition to fight ISIS, with the Iraqi government, Kurdish forces and moderate Syrians providing the manpower. He called on Congress to authorize resources to train and equip the Syrian opposition. And he admitted the campaign wouldn’t be a short one. Indeed, as the New York Times’ Baker writes, Obama will likely be leaving this war to his successor in office. All of this “may have ensured that he would pass his successor a volatile and incomplete war, much as his predecessor left one for him.”

Unanswered questions from last night

Obama’s plan to combat ISIS presents as many questions as answers. What does success look like? (If Yemen and Somalia are the examples, it’s worth noting that the campaigns there have, at best, degraded the terrorists but have hardly destroyed them.) What do you do with Assad? And how does this all end? In fact, that last question points to perhaps the biggest shortcoming from Obama’s speech. How long does this last? And at what cost? We didn’t get those answers last night.

Tempered praise from Republicans

Despite those unanswered questions, here’s the most interesting part from last night’s speech: It got more Republican support than anything Obama has done in his second term. “I support the president taking military action in Iraq and Syria to combat this organization. I also support his request for additional authority to support the moderate, vetted Syrian opposition. But more must be done,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. Added Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham: “While we strongly disagree with President Obama that America is safer today than five years ago, his speech tonight got some key things right. He explained to the American people why we must confront ISIS.” Yes, Republicans took some shots at the president. And, yes, some have disagreed with him taking U.S. combat forces off the table. But it’s been a long time since so many Republicans have showered this much praise -- no matter how tempered -- on the president. And for their part, Democratic leaders were pretty complimentary as well, though other Dems were split on the speech. In short, Obama will have Congress’ support taking the fight to ISIS. But sustaining it over months and years? That will be tougher.

Security pendulum swings back

On this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, note that it’s just not our NBC/WSJ poll showing that the security pendulum has swung back with the ISIS news in the headlines. According to a new Pew poll, 50% of Americans say U.S. anti-terror policies haven't gone FAR ENOUGH to protect the country, vs. 35% who say they've gone TOO FAR in restricting civil liberties. That's a significant reversal from last year after the Snowden revelations. In July 2013, Americans by a 47%-35% margin said that anti-terror policies had gone too far. And the numbers were similar in Nov. 2013: 44% said they had gone too far, while 39% said they hadn't gone far enough.

Gender gap still keeping Democrats in the game

Yesterday we wrote how our NBC/WSJ poll showed Democrats at the tipping point of big losses this midterm season. But the poll also revealed a silver lining that could limit their losses: the gender gap. In our latest survey, women preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress by seven points, 47%-40%. Although that’s down from our previous polls and although Republicans have an ever bigger lead among men (12 points), do note that our Sept. 2010 NBC/WSJ poll showed Democrats with just a three-point edge among female voters, 46%-43%. Bottom line: Democrats holding on to the Senate will largely come down to whether they win women by double digits in November. Another voting bloc keeping Democrats in the game: independents. Our poll had Republicans with a three-point lead among indies, 33%-30%, which is down from their 14-point advantage in Sept. 2010.

Looking at the Latino vote

Our poll also included an NBC/WSJ/Telemundo oversample among Latino voters (336 were interviewed), and the findings are striking. One, Obama’s approval with them has dropped to 47% -- down from 66% in our Oct. 2012 oversample. (And FYI: Much of the poll was conducted BEFORE Obama’s announcement that he was postponing any executive action on immigration until after the midterm elections.) That said, Latino voters prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by a 61%-28% margin, which is almost unchanged from the 65%-23% score from Oct. 2012. Also, the GOP and its major political figures remain unpopular with Latinos. Here are the fav/unfav ratings among Latinos:

  • Bill Clinton: 68%-11%
  • Hillary Clinton: 62%-21%
  • Barack Obama: 56%-25%
  • Democratic Party: 46%-28%
  • Eric Holder: 15%-17%
  • Marco Rubio: 19%-22%
  • George W. Bush: 36%-41%
  • Rand Paul: 14%-21%
  • Jeb Bush: 21%-32%
  • Republican Party: 29%-44%
  • Joe Arpaio: 6%-23%
  • Mitt Romney: 24%-43%
  • Tea Party movement: 14%-38%

It’s worth noting here that Bush’s favorable number is higher than the GOP’s and every other Republican.

So much for that Christie “comeback” storyline

Folks, this doesn’t help the “Chris Christie Comeback” storyline. Bloomberg headline: “N.J. Rating Cut by S&P as Christie Gets Record Downgrade.” And here’s the story: “New Jersey had its credit rating cut one step by Standard & Poor’s, handing Chris Christie his eighth downgrade, the most ever for a Garden State governor. The reduction to A, the sixth-highest level, with a stable outlook follows a Sept. 5 downgrade by Fitch Ratings. It gives New Jersey the same general-obligation grade as California, which is on track for an upgrade as revenue exceeds Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s estimates. Only Illinois has lower ratings than New Jersey among U.S. states.” Right now, the bridge story is the LEAST of Christie’s concerns. And that is a big problem.

First Read’s Race of the Day: AZ-2: Barber vs. McSally

Martha McSally, the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, came within a point of beating Democrat Ron Barber two years ago. McSally’s impressive personal story and unique military background have served her well in a region home to an intelligence installation and a major Air Force base. Barber is getting a boost from predecessor and gun violence victim Gabrielle Giffords, whose super PAC is hitting McSally’s record on background check in new television ads.

Countdown to Election Day: 54 days

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