Major survey finds
first-ever majority that
sees US on the wane
The Pew Research Center conducted the opinion poll on American foreign policy.
A LITTLE NOTICED but hugely important public opinion survey released this week shows that Americans see their country’s influence in the world diminishing – confirming what has become obvious to many abroad.
The survey by the Pew Research Center titled America’s Place in the World 2013 could have major implications for American foreign policy.
In fact, some say it has already done so.
Public support for global engagement, already low, has fallen even further. Experts blame “war fatigue” – the legacy of the Bush/Cheney years of foreign misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As negotiations proceed with Iran, Afghanistan and Syria, the impact of these trends could be enormous and global.
PUBLIC OPPOSITION to U.S. engagement abroad was on full display in September when President Obama planned a missile strike on Syria over its use of chemical weapons.
When the president chose the Russian-brokered diplomatic solution, it was perceived in the region as a defeat for the US, as we reported in U.S. influence in Middle East wanes.
“The influence of the United States is at its lowest ebb in generations here,” we wrote from Tel Aviv.
The American public is now shown to share the same view in the Pew report headlined
Public Sees U.S. Power Declining as Support for Global Engagement Slips published on Dec. 3.
The first page of the Pew Center’s nine-page report titled America’s Place in the World 2013. Click image to enlarge.
“Growing numbers of Americans believe that U.S. global power and prestige are in decline. And support for U.S. global engagement, already near a historic low, has fallen further,” Pew reports.
“The public thinks that the nation does too much to solve world problems, and increasing percentages want the U.S. to “mind its own business internationally” and pay more attention to problems here at home.”
This is an alarmingly isolationist trend, and it has been intensifying recently.
Among the survey’s most important results, is the public’s view of the decline in American influence.
“For the first time in surveys dating to 1974, more than half of the public (53 percent) says the United States plays a less important and powerful role as a world leader than it did a decade ago,” the report says.
The survey of the general public was conducted by telephone interviews Oct. 30-Nov. 6 among 2,003 adults in all 50 states.
It notes the decline in the public’s perception of U.S. influence as “a key milestone.”
“For the first time in surveys dating back nearly 40 years, a majority (53 percent) says the United States plays a less important and powerful role as a world leader than it did a decade ago. The share saying the U.S. is less powerful has increased 12 points since 2009 and has more than doubled – from just 20 percent – since 2004.”
The timing of the increase in the share of those aware of American decline is not coincidental. It comes amidst protracted, enormously expensive and largely unsuccessful attempts at nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have cost thousands of American lives.
It has undoubtedly been accentuated by events of the past six months in which the U.S. has been seen as unwilling or unable to intervene in Syria, Egypt and other hot spots where the country has vital national interests.
The result, according to Pew, is clear.
A graph from the video showing a huge spike in those who believe the US is less important in world affairs. Click image to enlarge.
“An even larger majority says the U.S. is losing respect internationally. Fully 70 percent say the United States is less respected than in the past, which nearly matches the level reached late in former President George W. Bush’s second term (71 percent in May 2008).
“Early last year, fewer Americans (56 percent) thought that the U.S. had become less respected globally.”
This is a reflection on how Americans see themselves in the world.
The results are summarized in a video presentation on the Pew web site.
“Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the US’s role in the world. A national survey by the PEW Research Center finds less support for foreign affairs,” we are told.
“For the first time in half a century a majority agrees that the United States should mind it’s own business internationally.
“This is the highest measure of American disengagement since the question was first asked (in 1974).”
These trends are of vital importance to policymakers at home and abroad.
Perception is reality.
If the American public perceives the country as less able and willing to intervene in global affairs, this will come to pass.
Public opinion is bound to have an impact on a broad range of issues and how they are resolved. Isolationism, however, is hardly a good option.
Events abroad have had and will continue to have a huge impact domestically, but it seems as if few are willing to acknowledge this. We do so at our peril.
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