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Poll: Americans Favor a More Realistic Foreign Policy

David S. Broder writes in his Washington Post column (via: Kosmoblog):
When President Bush, in his second inaugural address, pledged to "support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," he seemed to be speaking for the whole country. But two years later, a disillusioned American public, sobered by the war in Iraq and still fearful of more terrorist attacks here at home, is ready to settle for a less idealistic goal: protecting the United States and its vital interests. (...)
Large majorities -- including most Republicans -- reject Vice President Cheney's contention that the absence of a second attack means we are safer. Instead, they say that the threat of terrorism has increased since 2001, and they believe that the war in Iraq has made us less safe, not more. One victim of that psychology is Americans' belief in the worldwide democratic mission that Bush invoked so powerfully on Jan. 20, 2005. Now, by 58 percent to 36 percent, the voters say that "it is a dangerous illusion to believe America is superior to other nations; we should not be attempting to reshape other nations in light of our values." By an even greater proportion -- almost 3 to 1 -- they say the main goal of American foreign policy should be to protect the security of the United States and its allies, rather than the promotion of freedom and democracy.
He concludes:
Overall, independents have moved closer to Democratic positions on foreign policy, meaning that the Republicans' almost-automatic advantage on national security issues may be a thing of the past.
Personal comment: I doubt whether President Bush was indeed "speaking for the whole country" when he talked about ending tyranny in our world, as Broder claims. I doubt whether democracy promotion is on top of the agenda of the average American or European.
It seems to me that many pundits and politicians exaggerate the general public's appetite and support for democracy promotion.
Two examples in related posts in the Atlantic Review:
The Need for a New Transatlantic Ostpolitik quotes Ronald D. Asmus (GMF) as saying: "Americans have traditionally been more committed to democratic transformation -- in part because we are more powerful, more distant and have a different foreign policy ethos."
American Moral Principles and European Giggles quotes Secretary Rice as saying: "There cannot be an absence of moral content in American foreign policy. Europeans giggle at this, but we are not European, we are American, and we have different principles."


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David on :

David Broder is the elder statesman of the inside-the-beltway punditocracy - the elites who thought the unilateral invasion of Iraq was a brilliant idea. Broder was wrong then, and he has never been right since. Out here in the hinterlands there is only anger and sorrow over Broder's war. On Tuesday we buried the second kid from my town killed in Iraq in just three weeks. The whole community turned out for the funeral of Sgt. Jason Swiger, age 24 - the 3,237th US serviceman killed in Broder's and Bush's war. Like I said, only anger and sorrow...

mbast on :

3.237 casualties? Jeez, when I last looked the count was roundabout 1.500. Not good. If the figures are that high already for the US servicemen and -women, what will the casualty rate in the general Iraqi population be, I wonder? And I tend to agree with Joerg: "supporting democracy" might have been one of the objects of the war at first, but it was very clear from the get-go that trying to teach the Iraqis democracy at gunpoint would not work. The term democracy itself implies a freedom to choose your own way of government, so "imposing democracy" is actually an oxymoron. Which is why I'm a bit surprised at Broders rather late realisation that "it is a dangerous illusion to believe America is superior to other nations; we should not be attempting to reshape other nations in light of our values." Should've been ovious before the first US soldier set foot on Iraqi soil. Would've spared us all a lot of grief, Mr. Broder.

Pat Pattterson on :

Also most Americans when polled are in favor of the death penalty, against gay marriages, against assisted suicide, against the legalization of marijuana and a sizeable portion believe that the world was indeed created in 7 days. Polls simply don't matter as its the voting that counts.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

"Polls simply don't matter as its the voting that counts." Politicians frequently make statements on all polling examples you cited. Why? Because polls do matter. They influence election campaigns. Why the hell are politicians talking sooooo much about gay marriage? Is it a really important issue for America? Not really. It is just a controversial issue. Apparently voters base their decisions on what politicians say about theses issues. Therefore, I believe a poll asking for the importance of democracy promotion, is important. It indicates whether Americans want politicians who talk all the time about the land of free and the home of the brave bringing hope and the shining light of democracy to the poor people in the dark and oppressed world. Polls are certainly more representative of the current Zeitgeist and American psyche than the hundreds of insulated genius pundits who have perfect strategies of ending tyranny in our world and claim that Americans are more committed to democratisation than Europeans and would sacrifice their own lives to bring the light to foreign lands.

alec on :

Ugh, Ronald Asmus' statement is barely worth refuting but I will: anyone who claims that America has always been committed to the spread/maintaining of Democracy has not studied American foreign policy before 1948. Remember the isolationism of the 1920's, Wilson's 14 points and the League of Nations (only to be quickly abandoned BY the American's), and the fact that America didn't enter WW2 until attacked at Pearl Harbor and having Germany declare war. You could also speak of American foreign policy during the Cold War --specifically the geopolitical battles that were thoroughly undemocratic -- ie. support of Suddam in the 80's, Taliban in late 70's and early 80's, Iran-Contra affair, assassination's of democratically elected leftists in Latin & South America, etc.

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