Americans growing isolationist finds Pew poll

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In the 2000 presidential campaign, Al Gore put forth an expansive vision of America taking leadership in an interdependent world."The world's coming together," he declared in an October debate."They're looking to us." George W. Bush, by contrast, espoused a narrow nationalism except on trade and immigration."We should not send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in nations outside our strategic interest," he asserted in January 2000.

Five years later, Bush is advocating an expansive American role in spreading freedom and democracy around the world; but much of the country and even segments of the foreign policy elite have reverted to the more constricted views that Bush promoted during the 2000 campaign. That's the provocative finding of an extensive poll of Americans' foreign policy views conducted in October by the Pew Research Center and released last week.

In the '20s and '30s, isolationism prevailed both among foreign policy elites and the general public. From 1940 to the end of the Cold War, liberal internationalism was favored by elites and, to a great extent, the general public. But since the '90s, there has been a clash among all four views. After September 11, liberal internationalism and neoconservatism enjoyed a resurgence, but as the Pew poll shows, isolationism has made a vigorous comeback, especially among the general public.

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.

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