Many say Biden isn’t tough enough on Russia
WASHINGTON – Many Americans still wonder if President Joe Biden is showing enough strength in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine, even though most moves the US is already taking condone and few want US troops involved in the conflict will.
A poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 54% of Americans think Biden wasn’t “tough enough” in his response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 36% agree with his approach, while 8% say he was too strict.
But the longer the war drags on, the less Americans want to get involved. Thirty-two percent of Americans say the US should play an important role in the conflict. That’s down from 40% last month, although it’s still slightly higher than the 26% that said it in February. Another 49% say the US should play a minor role.
The results underscore the conundrum for the White House. As images of Russian attacks on civilians and hospitals are shared around the world, there is pressure to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin and help millions of Ukrainians who are under attack in their homeland or who are fleeing. But Biden must also manage the threat of escalation with Putin, who has raised the alert level on the use of Russia’s nuclear weapons, and prevent the US from becoming drawn into a much larger conflict.
“Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks they have faced militarily to date, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by the possible resort to tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons .” said CIA Director William Burns in a recent speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Burns added that “we haven’t seen much practical evidence” for Russia’s nuclear escalation.
The White House has authorized more than $2 billion worth of weapons and imposed Western sanctions that have devastated Russia’s economy. Biden has ruled out sending US troops – a decision supported by a majority of Americans.
The US has also withheld some weapons and defense systems wanted by Ukraine and placed early limits on information sharing that were relaxed during the conflict.
The poll and subsequent interviews with respondents show that many Americans, reacting to images of slain Ukrainians and alleged war crimes by Russian forces, want to see more action to stop Putin. A majority – 57% – say they believe Putin ordered his troops to commit war crimes. Only 6% say no, while 36% are not sure.
“I know we’re not directly responsible,” said Rachel Renfro, a 35-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee. “But we’ve always been the kind of people to get involved in situations like this and I don’t see why we don’t do it to a greater extent now.”
Renfro wants the US to take in more refugees and provide more aid to Ukraine. Sending in troops should be “an absolute last resort,” she said.
Most Americans are in favor of the US sanctioning Russia for the invasion, supplying arms to Ukraine and taking in refugees from Ukraine – about two-thirds say NATO membership is good for the US
But public support stops sending US troops to Ukraine to fight Russian forces. Only 22% support the use of US troops in Ukraine to fight Russian forces there, while 55% oppose; 23% say they are neither for nor against.
Michael Gonzalez, a 31-year-old from Fort Collins, Colorado, said Biden’s response was “about right,” citing sweeping sanctions against Russian banks, oligarchs, and government officials and their families.
“In a perfect world, I wish we could go there with the troops,” said Gonzalez, whose father served in the Cuban military and whose stepfather worked as a private contractor during the US war in Afghanistan. “I don’t think we should monitor the world and go everywhere. I wish we could help them, but we’ve been fighting for a while.”
Biden faces other significant policy challenges heading into the midterm with inflation at a four-decade high and rising energy prices, exacerbated by the war. The survey suggests the balance between sanctions on Russia and the US economy could shift. By a narrow margin, Americans say the nation’s greater priority is sanctioning Russia as effectively as possible rather than limiting damage to the US economy, 51% to 45%. Last month, more said they prioritized sanctioning Russia over limiting the damage to the economy, ranging from 55% to 42%.
Anthony Cordesman, chair emeritus for strategy at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that Americans broadly support many actions the White House is already taking. Building up Ukraine’s air defenses or sending in more tanks and planes will also require building logistics, including radar and maintenance capabilities, which will take much longer than many people would expect, Cordesman said.
The White House bringing this case to people who want more action is at its own risk.
“When you start communicating in detail the limits of what we can do, you may or may not reassure the American people, but you are providing Russia with a lot of information that you hardly want to communicate,” Cordesman said.
The AP-NORC survey of 1,085 adults was conducted April 14-18 using a sample from NORC’s AmeriSpeak Probability-Based Panel, which is intended to be representative of the US population. The range of sampling error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for all respondents.
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