- - Thursday, September 18, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Here are the dreary details on what’s been happening in our nation’s capital this week, but be forewarned: It isn’t a pretty picture.

The House has passed President Obama’s unspecified plan to arm and train the moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State terrorists. No sooner had the clerk of the House tallied the vote, though, Senate critics on both sides of the aisle were complaining that he doesn’t have a battle plan or any strategy. There were new, growing suggestions within his own administration that his pledge not to send ground troops back into Iraq is now open to question.

Meantime, when any discussion of the Obama economy seems to have evaporated on Capitol Hill, Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen reminded the nation Wednesday that the U.S. recovery is still very slow, and that “the labor market has yet to fully recover.”

The Fed released a report that lowered its forecast for economic growth this year to a dismal 2 percent, an anemic pace that suggests the Obama economy is still stuck in neutral.

Elsewhere, Mr. Obama’s goofy, gaffe-prone vice president continued his habit of putting his foot in his mouth — not once, but three times.

On a trip to Iowa, scene of the nation’s first presidential nominating caucuses, Joe Biden hinted that Mr. Obama might send American troops into the fight against the Islamic State terrorists in Iraq.

During a visit to a local diner in Des Moines, Mr. Biden was asked by a reporter whether he agreed with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that if he thinks troops were needed to defeat the terrorists’ offensive, he would recommend it to the president.

Would additional troops be needed? Mr. Biden was asked. “We’ll determine that based on how the effort goes,” he replied. Stay tuned.

Then, later, at a Democratic rally, he told a story about a trip to China where, he said, he met with Lee Kuan Yew, “who most foreign-policy experts around the world say is the wisest man in the Orient.” “Orient” is an insulting term Asians find disrespectful.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Biden apologized for using the word “Shylocks” in an address Tuesday to describe lenders who had foreclosed on military homeowners. That was criticized by Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman.

Shylock is the villainous Jewish figure in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” who asked for “a pound of flesh” from a borrower who could not repay his debt.

“It was a poor choice of words,” Mr. Biden said later, leaving some to wonder whether the former senator, famous for his embarrassing gaffes, was a poor choice to be vice president.

As Congress hurriedly prepares to wrap up its business and go home to campaign for the critical midterm elections, the House vote authorizing Mr. Obama’s request for support to provide arms for the Syrian rebels revealed a deep split in both parties over his course of action.

More than 40 percent of House Democrats opposed the authorization, which would have failed had it not been for the 159 Republicans who vote yes, along with 114 Democrats.

Voting no were 71 Republicans and 85 Democrats, who sent a sharp political message to Mr. Obama that a muscular minority in his party fears this would be the first step in a poorly planned political scheme that would thrust the United States back into the war.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Democrat, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the authority granted Mr. Obama “does nothing” to defeat the growing Islamic State offensive.

There were early signs, too, that he will lose a number of Democrats in the Senate in its upcoming vote.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III was one of the Democrats in that chamber to voice doubts about Mr. Obama’s proposal and to flatly declare his opposition.

“We have been at war in that part of that world for the past 13 years. If money and military might could have made a difference, it would have by now,” Mr. Manchin said.

There appeared to be deepening doubts on the GOP side as well.

Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a co-author of an earlier bill to train and arm the Syrian rebel forces in their fight to topple Bashar Assad’s dictatorship, said he will support Mr. Obama’s request. He also admits, though, that he’s unsure how or whether it would be successful.

“There’s a major disconnect,” Mr. Corker told reporters this week. “They don’t have a plan. They don’t have a strategy. They’re doing it to eke by the midterm elections.”

Whatever the legislative outcome of the White House’s latest about-face plan to deal with the rapidly expanding Islamic State threat, one thing seems clear right now that no amount of bluff and bluster from Mr. Obama can change: A majority of voters have lost faith in his presidency and his promises to strengthen an underperforming economy that remains chronically sluggish, and effectively deal with the national security challenges that endanger our country.

This week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Americans, by 55 percent to 38 percent, now think Mr. Obama is “more of a divider than a uniter.” By 52 percent to 42 percent, they now believe that he has turned out to be more of a failure than a success.

At the same time, the Gallup Poll released a survey on Wednesday that says the Republicans have bounced back “since bottoming out at 28 percent last fall during the government shutdown.”

“Americans’ opinions of the Republican Party have grown more positive,” Gallup said, and Republicans are now running about even with the Democrats. The Washington Post-ABC poll says the GOP now leads in its “generic ballot” survey.

Middle-class Americans don’t need polls to tell them how the country is doing under this president. On every level, they feel poorer and less secure, and they are clearly ready for a change.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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