Americans down on Obama's ISIS plan, high on Clinton's nat sec bona-fides

Hillary Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama. © Kevin Lamarque
Most Americans think President Barack Obama has no sound strategy to counter jihadist group Islamic State, while Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has an upper hand on Republican rivals over "handling terrorism," a new poll found.

Obama and Clinton have long been associated with one another, beginning with their tense fight for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and continuing into Obama's first presidential term, when Clinton served as secretary of state. Yet the pair are viewed very differently by Americans regarding their handling ‒ and, in Clinton's case, prospective handling ‒ of modern terrorism, according to separate polls.

Two-thirds of respondents to a new CBS News poll said that Obama has no coherent plan for countering Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL), with only 23 percent saying the president has offered a clear strategy for fighting the group. Islamic State controls large swaths of Syria and Iraq, and has begun making its presence known worldwide by taking credit for the Paris terror attacks of November 13 and for the bombing of a Russian charter jet last month.

In the same poll, half of respondents said the US should send ground troops to fight Islamic State, while 63 percent believe that such a deployment is inevitable. Only 20 percent believe airstrikes, the current weapon of choice for the US in dealing with Islamic State, will be successful in eliminating the group.

Last week, US airstrikes targeting Islamic State destroyed at least 116 trucks used by the organization to smuggle crude oil in Syria. Previous US policy was to damage but not destroy such targets, citing concerns about destroying Syrian infrastructure. The tanker-truck bombing was lauded as a success, and its effectiveness was attributed to better intelligence.

The Pentagon had previously justified the rules of engagement with Islamic State as necessarily strict to keep civilian casualties low. IS militants often hide in public places that would lead to significant collateral damage if hit by an airstrike. The Obama administration has come under heavy fire for the policy, with critics calling the rules too restrictive, noting the majority of US-led coalition aircraft return from their missions without dropping a single bomb.

Last week, Obama insisted that fighting Islamic State is different than conflict with another nation.

"We play into the ISIL narrative when we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state,” he said from the Group of 20 summit in Turkey. "That's not what's going on here. These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media and are able to infiltrate the minds not just of Iraqis and Syrians but disaffected individuals around the world."

Obama added: "It's not their sophistication or the particular weaponry they possess but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die."

Obama's former head diplomat, Clinton, received positive marks among respondents of a Washington Post/ABC News poll who were asked if they trusted Clinton or the various Republican candidates for president "to handle the threat of terrorism."

In individual comparisons, Clinton bested her potential opponents including Donald Trump (50-42), Ben Carson (49-40), Ted Cruz (48-40), Marco Rubio (47-43), and Jeb Bush (46-43). Nevertheless, the poll found that Clinton is the 2016 presidential race's most trusted candidate when it comes to global terrorism.

Like the CBS poll, the Post/ABC poll found the respondents discontent with Obama's actions against Islamic State and "terrorism" in general.

"Clinton’s position of strength in the new Post-ABC poll is perhaps more striking given it also found a record high 54 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling terrorism, and 57 percent disapproved of his handling of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria," wrote Washington Post polling analyst Scott Clement. "Clinton owes her edge then, to a significant share of Obama detractors who nonetheless prefer her over Republicans."

Last week, Clinton gave her vision for countering Islamic State during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. She criticized Turkey's lack of action against IS while chastising US allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that must “carry their share of the burden."

When it came to actually fighting IS militants on the ground, Clinton’s prescriptions were familiar. She called for more planes and more bombs, more involvement by US special forces, and arming and equipping local proxies.