John B. Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes about the growth of isolationist sentiment:
Since 1964, polls--first Gallup, then Pew--have been asking Americans whether the "United States should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own." An affirmative answer is a good indication of isolationist sentiment and hostility to both liberal internationalism and neoconservatism. In 1964, for instance, Gallup found only 18 percent of Americans agreed, while 70 percent disagreed, with this statement. The number began to rise soon afterwards; by June 1995, with the end of Cold War and the Republican capture of Congress, it had risen to 41 percent.
In September 2001, as Americans learned the hard way of our connection to the rest of the world, the number fell to 30 percent. Americans once more saw themselves as having global responsibilities. But according to the current Pew poll, it has now risen to an all-time high of 42 percent. That represents a sharp shift, and according to the Pew numbers, most of it took place in the last year, as Americans have become thoroughly disillusioned with the Iraq war. As might be expected, the public is also increasingly hostile to international institutions. Since 2002 the percentage of Americans believing that the United States "should cooperate fully with the United Nations" has fallen from 67 to 54 percent, and the proportion wanting the United States to go its "own way in international matters ... whether countries agree or not" has risen from 25 to 32 percent.
Perhaps harsh criticism from abroad contributes to these isolationist sentiments as well. Large parts of the world are either concerned about US interventions or about US isolationism, it seems. The article points out that President Chirac was complaining in 1995 that the post of world leader was "vacant." As always, finding the right balance is the key to everything.