In an article on the French site dedefensa entitled, "The Exhaustion of Despair" (L'epuisement du desespoir), they show a recent Pew Research Center poll suggesting that Americans are becoming more and more uncomfortable with their hegemonic foreign policy role in the world. It also points to a growing gap between the elite in American policy making and the public with regard to current events in the world and America's role in them. The poll, which covered international topics among two groups, the CFR (Council on Foreign Relations) and Americans in general, was released by the PewResearchCenter on December 3, 2009, and shows a marked shift in American sentiment towards a return to a more isolated world position.
Dedefensa points to two statements in particular that bring this to the fore. In the poll, two isolationist statements were presented to the general public, "The US should go its own way and not worry about what other countries say," and "The US should mind its own business and let others get along on their own." The results, 44% agreeing with the first statement and 49% with the second, are both huge increases over the results from 2002, where only 25% agreed with the first and 30% agreed with the second, and demonstrate an even greater isolationist trend when compared with the very first poll results of these questions in 1964 when only 19% of Americans agreed with the first statement and 18% with the second.
Clearly there is a general malaise growing across the country that is causing Americans heightened disgust and despair over its foreign policy especially in light of the recent debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan and the growing quagmire that is our War on Terror. America's views and actions with regard to terrorism on the world's stage is becoming more and more divergent from the rest of the world and the shift, even if it's not readily apparent in the MSM in the US, is nevertheless acutely felt by all those who monitor world affairs.
The opinion of Americans that the US plays a less important role in world affairs than they did 10 years ago also highlights this trend. For the first time since the Carter administration, Americans now feel that the US role has diminished over the past ten years, 41%, versus those who think its role has increased, 25%. Just five years ago, at the height of the Bush administrations military offensives in Iraq and Afghanistan, only 20% thought our role had diminished while 44% of Americans saw its role as more important. It appears that the longer our troops languish in Iraq and Afghanistan under uncertain and ill-conceived occupational plans, the greater will become the overall sentiment to leave the problems of the world to others to sort out.
Citing the same study, Voltairenet.org,, another French media site, contrasts the great disparity between the CFR's view on American foreign relations and the American public's view. In What the U.S. Elite Really Thinks About Israel, by Jeffrey Blankfort, he states, "The CFR members do not perceive Israel as an ally nor they consider Iran as an enemy, whereas the public essentially adheres to the neo-conservatist and AIPAC mindset."
The article goes on to point out that over two-thirds of the CFR members believe that the US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict over the years has been too much in favor of Israel while less than a third of the general public believes so. Blankfort cites the great media imbalance in the US for such a disparity. He correctly notes that CFR members have greater access to and understanding of the situation in the Middle East and are less influenced by media jingoisms and propaganda.
He goes on to show how only one in four members of the CFR side with Israel while over half of the US public is pro-Israeli. Further, more than 4 out of 10 CFR members view both sides equally, but only one in 25 Americans agree with that. With such disparities between the vaunted institution of the CFR and the public it is plain to see that AIPAC and other major pro-Israeli lobbyists are exerting a tremendous influence on the US government to back Israel in spite of the caution and disagreement among its elite policy making groups.
In addition to the public's desire for a more isolationist position on the world stage and the complete disconnect over Israeli-Palestinian issues, there were many other divisions between the elite foreign policy minds and the general public. For example, nearly half of the CFR members polled put Afghanistan and Pakistan as the two most important issues facing the country today while only one in ten Americans thought so.
Nearly 80% of CFR associates give President Obama high marks for his foreign policy efforts on Iran and China while less than 50% of the general public do. In fact, only one in three Americans give him a good rating on his policy relations with China. The vast majority of Americans also feel that China's emergence as a world power is a major threat to the US while only one in five CFR members feel that way.
Similarly, over 80% of those polled in the CFR agree with President Obama's decision to close GuantanamoBay which has been a major point of contention with American allies in other countries and a clear example of judicial double standard for American critics around the world. Yet less than 40% of the public favors its closure in spite of the fact that more than 3 out of 4 detainees there, those who Rumsfeld once hypocritically proclaimed "the worst of the worst" terrorists, have been freed without ever having been accused of any crime whatsoever, even after years of confinement.
On the question of torture, the topic that so disgusted President Reagan that he sponsored legislation to outlaw it on the world's stage, the divergence between world opinion, almost exactly echoed by the CFR, and American opinion couldn't be greater. While only 13% of CFR members feel that torture could be at least sometimes necessary, 54% of Americans believe it is required at least some of the time. Even with the solid scientific evidence that torture invariably produces inaccurate and misleading information, most Americans still see its need on the world stage.
In addition17 out of 20 members of the CFR see the instability in Pakistan as a major threat to the US, but less than half of the public agrees. While US covert operations there, including constant American UAV attacks on civilians and the use of mercenary groups such as Xe (formerly known as Blackwater) and others, become more and more highlighted in news reports around the world, Americans seem almost blase in their opinion on the importance of steadiness in the region, especially in Pakistan. With a growing worldwide perception that Pakistan is slowly slipping into civil strife and chaos, Americans seem almost oblivious to the ramifications should Pakistan blow up into a major civil war and find its nuclear weapons cache compromised.
But on the topic of defense and the use of US military, the disconnect passes from being an annoyance of misinformation brought on by concerted media and congressional lobbyist efforts to sway public opinion government action and enters the realm of real imperialism and hegemonic warfare. The disparity between the Council and the American public couldn't be wider. Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans want to keep or increase our defense spending while 4 out of 10 CFR members want to reduce it. Over 60% of the American public would also favor a war with Iran if they learned that Iran had a nuclear bomb while only 33% of the CFR agrees.
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