Polls show public agrees with GOP criticism of Obama on Libya

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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A day after two journalists were caught in the crossfire and killed in Libya, President Obama has come under fire from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, both potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates who penned separate op-eds panning the president for his handling of American military action in Libya. Criticism coming from two  would-be successors is to be expected, but unfortunately for Obama, the general public seems to agree with them.

An ABC poll released Wednesday found that 49 percent of the public disapproves of the way Obama is handling the situation in Libya, while just 42 percent approve. A Rasmussen poll of likely voters found a slightly more unpleasant situation for the president: 37 percent called Obama’s handling of Libya ‘good’ or ‘excellent,’ while 60 percent called it ‘fair’ or ‘poor.’

Bolton wrote in his op-ed that Libya risked becoming a “quagmire” like the Vietnam War and said that in “demanding Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster while restricting U.S. military force to the more limited objective of protecting civilians, Barack Obama has set himself up for massive strategic failure.” (President Obama wrote that Gaddafi’s ouster was necessary for Libya’s future in a joint op-ed with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.) Bolton argued that the president needed to declare ousting Gaddafi to be the goal of the military operation, authorize the military to use the necessary force to do that, and “return to active strike missions.”

Romney also attacked Obama for the lack of clarity in defining the mission.

“It is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone,” he wrote. “What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle.”

But unlike Bolton, Romney does not support increased involvement. “I support that specific, limited mission,” he wrote.

The American public seems to split the difference between the two potential GOP candidates. On the one hand, ABC found that the public, like Bolton, supports expanding the scope of the mission: 58 percent of those who supported U.S. military involvement said that the military ‘should also seek to remove’ Gaddafi. Only 40 percent said that the mission should stop at protecting civilians.

On the other hand, almost 80 percent of those same people opposed increased military involvement in Libya: 68 percent said the level of involvement should remain the same; 11 percent said it should be decreased.

That disparity – wanting to expand the mission without increasing the level of military involvement – appears to reflect a wariness of that possible Vietnam-like ‘quagmire’ suggested by Bolton. But unlike Bolton, the American public seems less sure that the solution is to commit more fully.

The public’s disapproval of the way the president is handling the situation suggests that they agree with Romney and Bolton on at least one point: as Romney wrote, “The president owes it to the American people and Congress to immediately explain his new Libya mission and its strategic rationale.”