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A new opinion poll shows the
American public growing more isolationist, less supportive of U.S. missions
abroad, less certain of American clout on the world stage and more concern
about rising economic powers like China. Analysts say the survey numbers
present a challenge for President Barack Obama as he tries to rally the nation
in support of a troop surge in Afghanistan.
Isolationist sentiment is on
the rise in the United States, according to a poll conducted by the
Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Forty-nine
percent of Americans, the survey says, believe the United States should
"mind its own business" and let other nations get along on their own.
That is up from 30 percent in 2002.
Pew President, Andrew Kohut says "The American public is focused on a bad
economy and also feeling badly about the world. There are two wars that the
public thinks are not going well [ -- Iraq and Afghanistan]."
Rising isolationism does not surprise Council on Foreign Relations studies
director James Lindsay who says "When the economy dips, so does the
public's enthusiasm for activity abroad. The public understandably wants its
politicians to worry about fixing problems at home and is less worried about
fixing problems overseas."
Lindsay says a growing preoccupation with domestic concerns has implications
for U.S. foreign policy in general and President Obama's new Afghan war
strategy, in particular.
Recent public opinion surveys have shown declining support for sending more
U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The Pew poll, conducted before President Obama's
Afghan strategy announcement this week, shows only 32 percent backing for an
expanded U.S. military mission.
Andrew Kohut says Americans are increasingly skeptical about U.S. intervention
"We had eight years of an assertive national foreign policy [under former
President George W. Bush]. And that foreign policy, in the end, was judged to
be unsuccessful. Coming away from an experience like that, it would lead some
Americans to believe that we are going to play a less influential, less
powerful role in the world," he
And which nations do Americans see as filling the vacuum created by a perceived
loss of U.S. clout on the world stage?, Mr. Kohut says:
"The public takes a less-benign view of China's rise. Fifty-three percent
[of Americans] see it as a threat, its emerging power as a threat to the United
States. Although it is not really a negative attitude towards China, there is
worry. And, more dramatically, for the first time a plurality of Americans
think that China -- not the United States -- is the world's leading economic
But if such pessimism and isolationist instincts are fed by current U.S.
economic troubles, could an economic recovery reverse the trend?
James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations says:
"What bad economic times can take away, it can give back. And if the
American economy turns around and we see a sustained period of economic growth,
I would expect to see these poll numbers change yet again."
American public opinion also appears to be diverging from that of U.S. foreign
policy experts. A recent poll of 600 members of the Council on Foreign
Relations, or CFR, shows 50 percent backing for a troop surge in Afghanistan,
and 58 percent listing China as an important future U.S. ally. Seventy-eight
percent of CFR members see China as a minimal threat or no threat at all to the