The Chicago Council of Global Affairs has done a study (.pdf) of world opinion (including American) about the United States role in foreign policy and the international order. There are many interesting findings, but let’s start with what they learned about American attitudes.

Americans also reject the idea that the United States should be the preeminent world leader and feel that it too often plays the role of world policeman. Most Americans (75%) believe the United States should do its share to solve world problems together with other countries. Very few support the idea that the United States should either withdraw from most international efforts (12%) or remain the preeminent world leader (10%) in solving international problems. The United States is also among the countries most convinced that “United States is playing the role of world policeman more than it should be” (76%). Only 21 percent disagree. Nearly the same number (75%) rejects the idea that the United States has an obligation to fulfill the role of world policeman and “fight violations of international law and aggression wherever they occur.” Only 22 percent believe the United States has this responsibility. However a majority of Americans feel the United States should either maintain its current number of overseas bases (53%) or increase them (15%). Twenty-seven percent think the United States should reduce its military presence and have fewer bases in foreign countries.

Here we see a basic dichotomy. While three-quarters of Americans think the United States is acting too much as a world-policeman and rejects the idea that we have any obligation to maintain order, 68% of the people think we should either maintain or increase our overseas military basing. It’s looks like Americans like our strong and forward positioned military, but don’t want that military used unless it is in full cooperation with allies and with the broad consent of the international community. These poll numbers are in alignment with mainstream Democratic rhetoric, and appear to be a resounding rejection of the tenets of neo-conservativism (unilateralism and preemptive war). But the numbers do not support a fundamental reevaluation of our post-Cold War forward military basing policy.

Here is an interesting finding:

Palestinians (76%) are the most likely of the publics surveyed to answer that the United States does not have such a responsibility [to play the role of ‘world policeman’]. The next most likely are Americans themselves. Three-quarters of Americans (75%) reject the idea that their country has a duty to enforce international law.

Something important has happened to U.S. domestic opinion when we and the Palestinians share the most hostile attitudes towards U.S. unilateralism. This is surely an unintended consequence for the neo-conservatives. It is not, however, a consequence that was unpredictable. Aside from the Iraqis, no publics have suffered more from neo-conservative policies than the U.S. and Palestine.

Another interesting finding: in spite of kicking the U.S. military out fifteen years ago:

In only one country does a majority disagree with the idea that the United States tends to take on the role of international enforcer more than it should: the Philippines…

Nearly four in five respondents in the Philippines (78%) say the United States should either keep “about as many” bases as now (60%) or add more bases (18%).

It looks like Filipinos have a bit of remorse about severing our military ties (although, post-9-11, those ties have been restored to some degree). It’s hard to identify what makes the Philippines such outliers in these polls.

Filipinos (85%) are the most willing to trust the United States and half of them think the United States can be trusted a great deal (48%).

Compare those numbers to Argentina and Peru.

An overwhelming 84 percent of Argentines answer that they have little confidence in the United States, including 69 percent who think the United States cannot be trusted at all. Eight in ten Peruvians (80%) also think the US cannot be trusted (23% not at all).

Argentina is the most hostile country polled.

Of the twelve publics polled, Argentines are those most in favor of shutting down US bases overseas (75%)

And only 1% of Argentinians agree with the statement: “As the sole remaining superpower, the US should continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.” Of course, only 10% of Americans agree with that statement, as compared to 34% of Indians and 24% of Israelis.

One thing I think we can draw from these polls is that we maintain the most support from two groups. The first is composed of former Soviet republics or satellites like the Ukraine and Poland, and the other is composed of countries like Israel, India, and the Philippines that have strong concerns about Islamic militancy and terrorism. India has emerged in the Bush years as a strikingly strong ally.

The survey also asks respondents in nine countries whether the United States has the “responsibility to play the role of ‘world policeman,’ that is to fight violations of international law and aggression wherever they occur.” Majorities in eight of the nine countries say the United States does not have the responsibility to fight aggression and enforce international law. The exception is India, where a slight majority (53%) says the US does have this responsibility while a third (35%) says it does not.

Our strong alliance with India is one of the few bright lights of Bush’s foreign policy, but it is somewhat offset by a collapse of support from South Korea.

The United States’ greatest economic and military rival in Asia—China—and one of its closest allies—South Korea—are equally likely to reject the idea that the US government has a duty to enforce international law. Sixty-one percent of Chinese and 60 percent of South Koreans answer no. South Koreans are only somewhat more likely to say yes (39%) than the Chinese (30%)…

Also among those who believe the United States generally cannot be trusted are: Indonesians (64%), Armenians (59%), Chinese (59%), Thais (56%) and South Koreans (53%)

South Korea has the largest minority saying that relations with the United States are worsening (34%)

Only in France have we seen a worse deterioration of relations than with South Korea.

The French are among the publics most convinced that the United States should not continue to be the preeminent world leader and a large majority believes the United States should reduce its overseas military presence. Very few (3%) say that the United States should continue to be the preeminent world leader, but only 21 percent believe that “the US should withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems,” Three-quarters (75%) of French respondents instead feel the United States should “do its share in efforts to solve international problems with other countries.” Nearly nine in 10 (89%) agree that the “United States is playing the role of world policeman more than it should be,” the largest majority out of any public polled. Confidence that the United States acts responsibly is also very low in France: only 28 percent say they trust the United States “somewhat” or a “great deal” while 72 percent say they trust the US to do so only a little (42%) or not at all (30%). Asked about the United States’ overseas military presence, the French are among the publics with the largest majority saying it should be reduced. Nearly seven in 10 (69%) say that the United States should have fewer military bases overseas, while about one quarter (27%) believes the number should remain the same. Very few (2%) feel it should be increased.

Another question we might ask is: how has neo-conservatism played with the Israeli public?

Israelis are unique in that they trust the United States to act responsibly in the world, believe it takes Israel’s interests into account, and think it should maintain its current number of overseas military bases. Nonetheless, only one quarter of Israelis (24%) say the United States should “continue to be the preeminent world leader in solving international problems.” Like most other publics, a majority (62%) thinks it should instead “do its share” with other countries in solving international problems. Only 10 percent would like it to withdraw from most efforts to solve international problems.” Asked whether the United States is “playing the role of world policeman more than it should be,” Israelis are evenly divided (48% agree, 48% disagree). Israelis express very high confidence that the United States will act responsibly in the world: 81 percent say they trust the United States to do so a great deal (56%) or somewhat (25%); just 16 percent say they do not trust the United States to act responsibly. An overwhelming majority of Israelis (82%) also say they believe the United States considers Israel’s interests in making foreign policy (including 57 percent who say it does so “a great deal”). Israel is the only country out of seven polled where a majority believes the United States takes their interests into account. A majority of Israelis (59%) believe the United States should either maintain or increase its overseas bases: 39 percent want it to keep the current number and 20 percent think there should be more. Twenty-two percent think 16
the number should be decreased. A slight majority of Israelis (52%) believes that relations with the United States are staying about the same, while one-third (32%) believes they are improving and just 12 percent say they are getting worse.

It’s hard to see much deterioration in these numbers. It’s true that less than a quarter of Israelis think the U.S. should continue to be the preeminent power in solving international problems, but that is the only number that shows any real degree of dissatisfaction with the status quo. The number I find most surprising is that only 12% of Israelis think relations with the United States are getting worse. This might be because the Bush administration is such an unquestioning supporter of Israel, but if we judge U.S.-Israeli relations by public attitudes, rather than official U.S. policy, there is no question that the U.S. public is less supportive of Israel than they were during the Clinton era.

Want proof? Since June 1967, Gallup polls has asked the America people the following question: “In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with Israel or with the Arab nations?”. In June 1967 the numbers were: 56% Israel, 4% Arab. The last poll in the Clinton era? Israel 41%, Arabs 11%. In September 2001: Israel 55%, Arabs 7%. Now (February 2007)? Israel 58%, Arabs 20%. The twenty percent Arab support number has rarely been surpassed in the 39 years the poll has been taken.

In April 1978 there was a one month blip where Arab support rose from 11% in March to 22%, before falling to 10% in May. In September 1982, when the Israelis violated the Habib agreement and occupied West Beirut, Arab support temporarily rose to 28% (compared to just 32% for Israel). The only other months when Arab support reached 20% were in May 1986 (20%), December 1988 (24%), October 1990 (23%), and August 1991 (21%). In contrast, during the entire Clinton presidency, Arab support never exceeded 16% and was typically in the low teens.

Rising sympathy for the Palestinian cause has not been accompanied by a decrease in support for the Israeli cause. In fact, in the post-9/11 world the most striking change has been a reduction in the numbers of the undecided. This is probably due to increased awareness of the issues and their perceived importance to the United States.

Nevertheless, the Iraq War has led to a much more isolationist mood at home, and increased impatience with both our oil dependence and the intractable Middle East peace process (or lack thereof).

Another factor that is hurting Israel is the collapse of Arab opinion about the United States. In 2002, Jordanians gave the US a 34%-61% favorability rating. By 2006, that number was 5%-90% and by 76%-1% Jordanians said they had a less favorable opinion of the US than they had held the year before. These numbers were mirrored, a little less strongly, in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, and Lebanon (all supposedly our allies).

It’s very hard to look at these numbers and not see a deterioration of the position of both the United States and Israel.

All told, neo-conservatism has taken its toll on the American consensus for taking the preeminent role in maintaining international order, and it has absolutely collapsed the world community’s tolerance for such a system. Traditional allies like France, South Korea, and our Arab proxies have totally rejected Bush’s policies…and this has only been partially offset by improved relations with the Philippines and India.

In such an environment, it is suddenly possible to start a debate about a new, new world order in which America plays less of a dominant role and which, most importantly, our taxpayers bear less of a burden for international security and stability. At the same time, securing Israel’s future by getting a peace settlement has taken on greater urgency as declining support for the American projection of power in the Middle East, poor relations with our regional allies, and demographics, all conspire to weaken Israel’s bargaining position.

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