Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the state of affairs in the Middle East, with majorities doubtful there will ever be peace between Israel and its neighbors, or that American troops will be able to leave Iraq anytime soon, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.I find these results troubling. Since World War II, the United States has pursued a foreign policy of internationalism. America's forward role in the world since 1945 -- as the international system's great democratic superpower -- contrasted dramatically with the dark isolationist turn the U.S. took in the 1930s after World War I. American policymakers learned key lessons from the interwar experience, one of the most important being that the interests of the world community are best served through the benign hegemony of U.S. leadership. We saw overwhelming evidence of this with the defeat of Soviet tyranny and expansionism with the end of the Cold War, as well as in the dramatic growth of global economic prosperity through successive rounds of U.S.-led trade and financial liberazation in the global political economy.
A majority said the war between Israel and Hezbollah will lead to a wider war. And while almost half of those polled approved of President Bush’s handling of the crisis, a majority said they preferred the United States leave it to others to resolve.
Over all, the poll found a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war, underscoring the challenge for Mr. Bush as he tries to maintain public support for his effort to stabilize Iraq and spread democracy through the Middle East.
The concerns expressed over the direction of foreign policy also highlight some of the pitfalls facing Republicans as they head toward the November elections with national security front and center.
A majority of respondents, 56 percent, said they supported a timetable for a reduction in United States forces in Iraq, a question the two parties have been sparring over, with the White House and most Republicans in Congress taking the position that setting a timetable would send the wrong message. More than half of that group said they supported a withdrawal even if it meant Iraq would fall into the hands of insurgents.
Americans support the idea of putting an international peacekeeping force on the border between Israel and Lebanon to calm tensions there, the poll found, but most do not want United States troops to be a part of it.
By a wide margin, the poll found, Americans did not believe the United States should take the lead in solving international conflicts in general, with 59 percent saying it should not, and 31 percent saying it should. That is a significant shift from a CBS News poll in September 2002 — one year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — when the public was far more evenly split on the issue.
Yet, in the latest poll, 47 percent gave Mr. Bush good marks for handling the situation in Israel, with 27 percent disapproving and 26 percent saying they did not know. That was the highest registration of approval for the president in any of the poll’s performance measures.
Mr. Bush has experienced a slight increase in his overall job approval rating since the last New York Times/CBS News poll, in May, indicating that the steady erosion in his support over the last year has leveled off and even improved by a few percentage points. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said they approved of the way he was doing his job, up from 31 percent in May.
The public shift toward isolationist tendencies -- which comes in tandem with growing nationalism and protectionism characterized by the collapse of the Doha Round of current trade negotiations -- may threaten continued U.S. leadership in providing public goods of global security and economic prosperity (it's welcomed, though, that a large plurality supports the administration in its hard-line stand with Israel in the current conflict).