Three years of the Bush administration's "war
on terrorism" appears to have reduced the appetite of the U.S. public and
its leaders for unilateral military engagements, according to a major survey
released Tuesday by the Chicago Council on Foreign
Indeed, the survey,
the latest in a quadrennial series going back to 1974, found that key national-security
principles enunciated by President George W. Bush since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks
on New York and the Pentagon are opposed by strong majorities of both the public
and the elite.
While supporting the idea that Washington should take an active role in world
affairs, more than three of every four members of the public reject the notion
that the United States "has the responsibility to play the role of world policeman"
and four of every five say Washington is currently playing that role "more
than it should be."
In addition, overwhelming majorities of both the public and the elite said
that the most important lesson of 9/11 is that the nation needs to "work more
closely with other countries to fight terrorism" as opposed to "act more on
Similar majorities of both the public and leaders rejected Bush's notion of
preemptive war. Only 17 percent of the public and 10 percent of leaders said
that war was justifiable if the "other country is acquiring weapons of
mass destruction (WMD) that could be used against them at some point in the
Fifty-three percent of the public and 61 percent of leaders said that war would
be justified only if there is "strong evidence" the country is in "imminent
danger" of attack. For about 25 percent of both the public and the leaders,
war would be justified only if the other country attacks first.
The CCFR survey, which because of its rich detail and consistency over the
past 30 years is generally taken more seriously than others that are conducted
more sporadically, queried nearly 1,200 randomly selected members of the public
during the second week of July.
A second survey of 450 "leaders with foreign policy power, specialization,
and expertise" including U.S. lawmakers or their senior staff, university
faculty, journalists, senior administration officials, religious leaders, business
and labor executives, and heads of major foreign policy organizations or interest
groups posed the same questions to determine where there may be gaps
between the views of the elite and the public at large.
The last CCFR survey was taken in 2002, and normally the next one would not
be held until 2006. But the council decided to commission one for 2004, in part
due to "the significant role foreign policy issues are playing in American
political life and the 2004 presidential election," according to Marshall Bouton,
The council also collaborated with similar efforts by partner organizations
in Mexico and South Korea, the conclusions of which will be released in the
While terrorism and other security threats still loom large in the public's
mind, according to this year's survey, "there is a lowered sense of threat
overall compared to 2002," when foreign policy concerns, particularly terrorism,
topped the list of foreign-policy issues that most concerned the public.
"Protecting American jobs" was the most frequently cited goal of foreign
policy in the 2004 poll (78 percent called it a "very important" goal), followed
by preventing the spread of nuclear weapons (73 percent), and combating international
terrorism (71 percent).
For the elite respondents, on the other hand, nuclear non-proliferation and
terrorism topped the list, while protecting U.S. jobs ranked eighth out of 14
As for "critical threats," three out of four public respondents chose international
terrorism, but that was down 10 points from two years ago. Two of three chose
WMD, but that was also down by about 17 points from 2002, and virtually all
other threats cited in the survey declined substantially.
Thus, "Islamic fundamentalism," which was considered a "critical threat"
by 61 percent of the public in 2002, was cited by only 38 percent this year,
while the "development of China as a world power," cited by 51 percent in
2002, claimed only 33 percent in 2004.
While, for the public, foreign policy issues virtually across the board were
seen as less important than in 2002, that was not true for the foreign-policy
elite, which rated "combating world hunger," securing energy supplies, improving
the global environment, and, most striking, improving the standard of living
of less developed nations, significantly higher than two years ago.
In addition, 40 percent of the elite now consider "strengthening the United
Nations" as a "very important goal" of U.S. foreign policy, up 12 percent
from 2002. Conversely, the percentage of leaders who cited "maintaining superior
power worldwide" as a very important goal, fell from 52 percent in 2002 to
only 37 percent in 2004, the first time it has received less than majority support
since the question was first asked in 1994.
A more chastened approach to foreign policy also showed up in declining support
on the part of both the public and the elite for maintaining military bases
abroad, particularly in hot spots like the Middle East and states linked to
More than two-thirds of both the public and the leaders agreed the United States
should withdraw from Iraq if a clear majority of Iraqi people want it to do
so. As to whether Washington should remove its military presence from the Middle
East if a majority of people there desire it, 59 percent of the public said
yes, but only 35 percent of the elite agreed.
A majority of the public said Washington should not press Arab states to become
more democratic; two-thirds said they opposed a Marshall-type Plan of economic
aid and development for the region.
Large majorities of the public and the elite favor retaining traditional constraints
on the use of force by individual states, including the United States, and oppose
new ideas for making them looser, as often proposed by the Bush administration.
At the same time, they favor giving wide-ranging powers to states acting collectively
through the United Nations.
Thus, majorities of both the public and leaders oppose states taking unilateral
action to prevent other states from acquiring WMD, but support such action if
the UN Security Council approves. In the specific case of North Korea, for example,
two-thirds of respondents said it should be necessary for Washington to get
the council's approval before taking military action.
A majority of the public opposes the United States or any other nation having
veto power on the Security Council.
The survey also found strong support for U.S. participation in a wide range
of international treaties and agreements, some of which have been rejected or
renounced by the Bush administration.
Thus 87 percent of the public and 85 percent of the elite said they would favor
the terms of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; 80 percent of both groups
said they favored the landmine ban; 76 percent of the public and 70 percent
of the elite said they support U.S. participation in the International Criminal
Court; and 71 percent of both groups said they back U.S. participation in the
Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming.
Two-thirds of the public and three-quarters of the elite agreed that, in dealing
with international problems, Washington should be more willing to make decisions
within the UN, even if this means that its views will not prevail.
Asked what specific steps should be taken for strengthening the world body,
three-quarters of the public and two-thirds of leaders said the UN should have
a standing peacekeeping force.
A majority of 57 percent of the public and a plurality of 48 percent of the
elite said the United States should make a general commitment to abide by World
Court decisions rather than decide on a case-by-case basis.
(Inter Press Service)