Poll Finds Americans Divided on Obama’s War Legacy

Forty percent of those polled said Obama will be remembered for ending a war, while 44 percent said he’ll be remembered for starting one. In Congress, Democrats and Republicans are split, too.
Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The president who this week formally asked Congress for permission to go to war with the Islamic State is now officially at odds with the senator from Illinois who ran for the presidency promising to end the war in Iraq. 

Throughout President Obama’s first term, that was a promise he kept—six years ago this month he laid out his timetable for ending the war, and by December 2011 the last U.S. troops had left Iraq. But now, as Obama asks Congress to pass his authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State, Americans aren’t sure if he’ll be remembered more for ending that war, or starting a new one.

The NBC News/Marist poll found that 40 percent of those polled said Obama will be remembered for ending a war, while 44 percent said he’ll be remembered for starting this one. In either case, a slight majority of those polled said they supported the proposed AUMF, which, as described in the poll, asks for “authorization for three years, with no geographic limitations [... and] flexibility for limited ground operations by the U.S. military, but rules out deploying a long-standing ground force.” Fifty-four percent of respondents said they wanted their member of Congress to pass the AUMF—though only 40 percent think it will gain bipartisan support.

So far, the AUMF has had better luck gaining bipartisan dissatisfaction. Obama has tried to strike a balance between those on the right who want the commander in chief to have flexibility, and those on the left who want to prevent an endless war, and neither group is pleased. Speaker Boehner said the president “has tied his own hands and wants to tie his hands even further with the authorization that he’s sent up here.” 

Meanwhile, Democrats like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have already spoken out against the AUMF, arguing that it doesn’t set clear enough restrictions on what the president can do, and when and how he can do it. Those concerns are grounded in the fact that Obama used a decade-old AUMF he once wanted to “to refine and, ultimately, repeal” to justify this campaign. 

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