U.S. opinion leaders who expressed strong confidence
in Washington's global leadership in the late 1990s have been chastened by the
Iraq war, which has also spurred a sharp rise in isolationist sentiment in the
general public, according to the
latest in a series of surveys released here Tuesday by the Pew Research
Center for the People and the Press.
The quadrennial survey, produced in collaboration with the New York-based Council
on Foreign Relations (CFR), also found a sharp drop in support for the United
Nations and growing concern about Washington's image abroad among both elite
sectors and the public, due primarily to the Iraq war.
Unlike the general public, however, elite groups identified U.S. support for
Israel as the second major factor contributing to global unhappiness with Washington.
The survey, which was carried out in September and October, found little support
for the Bush administration's democracy-promotion efforts abroad. While most
public and elite respondents expressed sympathy for the goal, neither sector
rated it a top foreign policy priority, and both were skeptical – elite
groups far more so – that it could be achieved in the Middle East, in particular.
And while the poll found a majority (56 percent) of the public still believes
the U.S. will be successful in establishing a stable democracy in Iraq, opinion
leaders, with the exception of military officers, are much more doubtful, with
around 40 percent believing that Iraq will split into three countries.
Like another quadrennial public opinion study by the Chicago Council on Foreign
Relations (CCFR), the Pew survey is looked to by specialists as one of the most
reliable barometers of public and elite foreign policy attitudes, in part because
it tracks responses to the same or very similar questions to respondents over
a relatively long period of time.
While the public part of the survey uses conventional telephone polling techniques,
the elite respondents, who were selected through their listing on specific directories,
were interviewed either by telephone or online.
A total of 520 opinion leaders, or "Influentials," divided roughly
into eight different sectors – news media; foreign affairs; security; state
and local government; academic or think tank; religion; scientists and engineers;
and military – took part.
Pew director Andrew Kohut noted that the overall elite sample, with the exception
of the military sector, tilted Democratic.
At the same time, the survey's timing made it impossible for it to take into
account the continuing erosion in Bush's public approval ratings that has taken
place over just the past month.
The Pew poll showed a 40 percent overall approval rating for Bush as of mid-October,
but more recent polls have shown a further drop to around 37 percent. Similarly,
the Pew poll still found that a majority of 52 percent approved of his conduct
of the "war on terrorism," but a Wall Street Journal poll published
last week found for the first time that a majority now disapproves.
Some of Pew's findings echo those of the latest CCFR survey released 14 months
ago. Like the Pew report, it also found that the Iraq war had reduced the appetite
of the public and the elite for unilateral military engagements, in particular.
At the same time, however, it found growing support for multilateralism and
the UN on a range of issues.
But the Pew report suggests that public sentiment has become more isolationist,
at least as measured by respondents' reaction to the assertion that the U.S.
should "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get
along the best they can on their own."
Forty-two percent of respondents agreed with that view, up from 30 percent
in 2002 and roughly equivalent to other recent periods, such as immediately
after the Vietnam War in 1975 and again in 1995, just after Republicans swept
Congress on a platform that strongly rejected then-President Bill Clinton's
multilateralism, when the country turned inward.
Moreover, Pew found a sharp deterioration in U.S. attitudes toward the United
Nations, reflecting perhaps the impact of the recent "Oil-for-Food"
scandal that neoconservatives and other right-wing forces have used effectively
over the past year to stoke opposition to the UN
Only about half of respondents (48 percent) expressed a positive opinion of
the UN, down from 77 percent in August, 2001. Similarly, 54 percent of respondents
said Washington should "cooperate fully with the UN," down from 67
percent in 2002, on the eve of the Iraq invasion.
On the other hand, the new poll growing sensitivity to how the rest of the
world sees the U.S., with two-thirds of the public agreeing that the U.S. is
"less respected" today than in the past, and 43 percent of the sample
asserting that that perception is a "major problem" for Washington.
Both Influentials (88 percent) and the public (71 percent) point to Iraq as
the major reason for this decline. But while the public (60 percent) blames
"America's wealth and power" as the second most-important cause, 64
percent of the all Influentials, including higher percentages of media professionals,
security experts, military officers, and foreign-affairs specialists, cite U.S.
support for Israel.
Significantly, historic U.S. support for authoritarian Arab governments –
which the Bush administration says has been a major cause of Washington's problems
in the Middle East – is seen by both groups as relatively insignificant.
The Pew survey found that elite attitudes in favor of strong U.S. leadership
abroad – which were particularly pronounced in the latter part of the Clinton
administration – have now moved closer to more modest roles long favored
by the general public, of which a total of 37 percent say the U.S. should either
be the "single world leader" (12 percent) or should share leadership
but be "the most assertive" (25 percent).
In 1997, some two-thirds of elite respondents either for "single world
leader" or "the most assertive" among a shared leadership. In
the most recent survey, the percentage is closer to half, with significant majorities
of religious leaders and scientists and engineers – the two most dovish groups
– opting for significantly more-restrained roles.
Another difference from the late 1990 disclosed by the latest survey is a more
temperate view of China by both the general public and the Influentials. While
solid majorities of elites and a plurality of the public (45 percent) continue
to see China as a "serious problem" fewer than 20 percent in each
group describe it as an "adversary," with many elites predicting that
it will become an increasingly important U.S. ally.
(Inter Press Service)