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POLITICS-US: Public Wants “New Approach” on Foreign Policy

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Oct 20 2006 (IPS) - More than 70 percent of the U.S. public, including nearly half of self-identified Republicans, say they prefer candidates for Congress in the Nov. 7 mid-term elections who will pursue a “new approach” to U.S. foreign policy, according to a new survey released here Friday by the Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).

The survey, which echoes many of the key findings of two other recent major polls of U.S. foreign policy attitudes, found that voters are increasingly disillusioned with critical aspects of policy preferences of the administration of President George W. Bush, particularly his reliance on military power, penchant for unilateral action, and disdain for international opinion.

“Voters are calling for a sea change in U.S. foreign policy,” said PIPA’s director, Steven Kull, who noted that, unlike most mid-term elections, foreign policy has taken centre stage in this year’s Congressional races. “They want less emphasis on military force, and more on soft power.”

Among other findings, the latest poll found that more than two-thirds of respondents (68 percent) said they were “dissatisfied with the position of the United States in the world”, a sharp increase from the 30 percent who said they were dissatisfied during the first weeks of the Iraq war in April 2003, and up 14 percent from a Gallup poll taken just last February.

Moreover, a surprising 44 percent of Republicans said they were dissatisfied with the U.S. position in the latest survey, which surveyed a representative, randomly selected sample of 1,058 adults across the country Oct. 6-15.

Nearly nine out of 10 respondents said they believed that it is either “somewhat” (40 percent) or “very” important for people in other countries to feel goodwill toward the U.S. Eighty-four percent of self-identified Republicans agreed.


The survey comes amid a growing consensus among professional political analysts that Democrats will regain control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994 and have an even chance at retaking the Senate, as well. It is the latest in a series of in-depth polls released over the past two weeks that have shown widespread and unusually intense disapproval of Bush’s stewardship of foreign policy, particularly in the Iraq and the Middle East, and more generally of his emphasis on military power and indifference to foreign public opinion, especially in the Islamic world.

A poll released earlier this week by Public Agenda and Foreign Affairs journal, a publication of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, found that nearly two-thirds of respondents believe that the world feels negatively about the United States. Moreover, nearly 90 percent said they considered that such feelings constitute a threat to U.S. national security.

It also found that nearly 80 percent of respondents believe the world is becoming more dangerous – 43 percent said “much more dangerous” – and an even higher 83 percent said they were worried either “a lot” or “somewhat” about “the way things are going for the U.S. in the world” today.

A second poll released last week by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that around two-thirds of the public believes that the Iraq war has not reduced the threat of terrorism, will not lead to the spread of democracy in the Middle East, and has worsened U.S. relations with the Islamic world. Some three out of four respondents said they worry about the U.S. playing the role of “world policeman” more than it should.

The PIPA poll made similar findings. It found, for example, that 65 percent of the public believe that the Bush administration has been “too quick to get American military forces involved” in dealings with foreign countries – up from 59 percent two years ago – and that 78 percent of respondents, including 64 percent of Republicans, believed that the Bush administration’s conduct of foreign policy had “decreased” goodwill toward the U.S. overseas.

Two-thirds of the public, including 52 percent of Republicans, said they believed the administration “should put more emphasis on diplomatic and economic methods” in the fight against terrorism – up from 58 percent three years ago.

Conversely, only 30 percent of respondents said the administration should put more emphasis on military methods or maintain the present balance, down from the 39 percent who took that position in 2003. Among Republicans, the comparable percentages fell from a strong majority of 59 percent to a minority of 48 percent.

The survey also found a strong preference for Congressional candidates who favour increasing multilateral cooperation. Nearly three out of four respondents, including Republicans, said they would prefer Congressional candidates who believe that “the U.S. should do its share in efforts to solve international problems together with other countries” as opposed to “continu(ing) to be the pre-eminent world leader in solving international problems” (nine percent; 16 percent of Republicans); or “withdraw(ing) from most efforts to solve international problems” (16 percent, 11 percent of Republicans).

Kull stressed that he didn’t see a big “surge” in support for multilateralism or opposition to unilateralism in the latest results, but that support for multilateralism is “congealing and organising in the context of the current Congressional elections.”

Noting that U.S. citizens have traditionally supported multilateralism, he said, “There’s an accumulating feeling that ‘when are we going to get back on track?'”

Asked their reaction to the statement, “For the U.S. to move away from its role as world policeman and reduce the burden of its large defence budget, (it) should invest in efforts to strengthen the U.N.’s ability to deal with potential conflicts in the world,” 68 percent of all respondents, including 53 percent of Republicans, agreed.

Asked to choose between two principles for U.S. foreign policy – that Washington should use its power “to make the world be the way that best serves U.S. interests and values” or that Washington “should coordinate its power together with other countries according to shared ideas of what is best for the world as a whole” – 79 percent, including 75 percent of Republicans, chose the second option.

On more specific policies, respondents were asked to choose between two alternatives for dealing with hostile countries, such as Iran and North Korea – whether to demand that they first suspend their objectionable conduct before entering talks or to not impose pre-conditions before entering into talks. A majority of 55 percent of all respondents chose the second option, although half of Republicans chose the first.

Asked whether anti-U.S. attitudes in the Middle East were based mostly on “dislike of American values” or on “dislike of American policies” in the region, 62 percent of all respondents chose the latter. Nearly 60 percent of Republicans, on the other hand, chose the former, which is generally consistent with the administration’s position.

Thirty-four percent of the sample’s respondents identified themselves as Republicans; 43 percent as Democrats; and 23 percent as Independents.

Commenting on the poll, Lael Brainerd, director of the Brookings Institution’s Global Economy and Development Centre and former senior National Security Council official under President Bill Clinton, concluded that “Americans feel the need to rebalance the country’s approach to the world.”

 
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