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Democratic pollsters warn: Obama losing ground on national security

Despite his decisions to surge troops to Afghanistan, delay the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, and perhaps reverse himself by endorsing military commissions for terror suspects, President Obama is still losing ground in polls related to national security. Such is the finding of a new major survey released Monday by leading Democratic ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Despite his decisions to surge troops to Afghanistan, delay the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, and perhaps reverse himself by endorsing military commissions for terror suspects, President Obama is still losing ground in polls related to national security.

Such is the finding of a new major survey released Monday by leading Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, top party operative James Carville, and the folks at the progressive national security think tank Third Way, which they are framing as "a wake-up call for President Obama, his party, and progressives on national security."

Despite his decisions to surge troops to Afghanistan, delay the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, and perhaps reverse himself by endorsing military commissions for terror suspects, President Obama is still losing ground in polls related to national security.

Such is the finding of a new major survey released Monday by leading Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, top party operative James Carville, and the folks at the progressive national security think tank Third Way, which they are framing as "a wake-up call for President Obama, his party, and progressives on national security."

"Although the public continues to give the president strong ratings on a range of national security issues — indeed, above his overall approval rating — there is evidence of rising public concern about the president’s handing of these issues," the group said Monday, arguing that Republicans are winning ground by portraying the administration’s handling of terror suspects as lenient or risky.

Obama’s ratings on key national security issues were still high, according to the poll; his handling of Afghanistan (58 percent), national security (57 percent), "leading America’s military" (57 percent), "improving America’s standing in the world" (55 percent), fighting terrorism (54 percent), and Iraq (54 percent), were all higher than his 47 percent overall approval rating.

But those numbers were down from levels in the 60s that were recorded by the same group last May. Fewer respondents now say they view Obama’s handling of national-security issues as better than that of his predecessor George W. Bush — Obama’s margin here has shrunk from 22 to just 5 percent.

The pollsters warn that Obama’s declining numbers could re-open the Democratic Party’s traditional vulnerability on national security, a problem dating back to the Vietnam era.

"When the questions move beyond the president to Democrats generally, we see that the public once again has real and rising doubts about the Democrats’ handling of national security issues, as compared to their faith in Republicans," the survey explained.

 Regardless, the report argues that "the public resists accusations by former Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans that President Obama and his policies have made the country less secure." Although the report offers little to support that assertion, recent developments indicate that some leading Republicans are uncomfortable with the harshest criticisms launched by some on the right.

Several former Justice Department officials have criticized the group Keep America Safe, which is led by Liz Cheney and William Kristol, for its attacks on the department for hiring lawyers who have defended terror suspects in the past, including one particularly controversial ad calling some of them the "al Qaeda 7."

"The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams’s representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre," reads a letter organized by the Brookings Institution’s Benjamin Wittes and signed by David Rivkin, Lee Casey, and Philip Zelikow, among other prominent Republican lawyers.

"To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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