with war abroad and growing problems at home, U.S. opinion leaders
and the general public are taking a decidedly cautious view of
America's place in the world," begins the summary of national
surveys taken through last month by the Pew Research Center for
the People and the Press in collaboration with the Council on
Foreign Affairs in New York.
leaders have become less supportive of the United States playing
'a first among equals' role among the world's leading nations.
... As the Iraq war has shaken the global outlook of American
influentials, it has led to a revival of isolationist sentiment
among the general public."
42 percent of poll respondents among the general public agreed
with this statement: "The United States should mind its own
business internationally and let other countries get along as
best they can on their own."
That is about
the highest number in recent decades for the "isolation"
index used in national polling -- higher than it was after the
war in Vietnam, higher than it was after the end of the Cold War.
Among 520 opinion leaders, whose attitudes are traditionally more
internationalist than those of the public, the percentage who
say they believe America must be the "single world leader"
or be "the most assertive of the leading nations" has
dropped by 10 to 20 percentage points when compared with polls
taken in 2001 -- just before Sept. 11.
counts as "influentials" government officials, foreign
affairs experts, military, religious, scientific and news media
leaders. I was among those questioned for 30 minutes as part of
the "influential" section.)
numbers I found significant was this one: 66 percent of the public
respondents answered yes to the question, "Is the U.S. less
respected than in the past?" Three-quarters of them cited
the war in Iraq as a major factor in their answers. Among the
influentials, 87 percent said the war in Iraq was essentially
the reason the world is losing respect for the United States.
The sharpest break in the answers of the public and the leaders
was on the question of whether U.S. support of Israel was a major
factor in global discontent with American policy. Thirty-nine
percent of the public said yes, but the number in the influential
group was 64 percent.
of both the public and influentials, however, do agree that bringing
democracy to Iraq is a worthy goal. The problem is that more than
two-thirds of both groups believe we will fail in that attempt.
On the question of torture, "ordinary" folks and elites
separate. The public split evenly on whether the use of torture
may sometimes be necessary in questioning terrorist suspects.
The influentials overwhelmingly answered no to such questions.
The public also supports strict use of visas to keep more foreign
students out of the United States. Influentials say current restrictions
go too far and are hurting the country.
many more interesting results concerning public opinion in the
surveys: Support for the United Nations is dropping; only 44 percent
see free-trade agreements, particularly the North American Free
Trade Agreement, as being good for the United States, and 84 percent,
statistically just about everyone, agreed with the statement that
protection of American jobs should be a major and long-term objective
of American policy. Pluralities of both the public and influentials
results listed "luck" as the major reason there has
not been a major terrorist incident in the country since Sept.
but the bottom line, as I read it, is that the most important
reason for getting American troops out of Iraq as soon as possible
is not what is happening on the ground there but what is happening
here at home. Good or bad, successful or a disaster, the war is
beginning to tear apart our country.