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The People Know Better | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The People Know Better

Once again the people are way ahead of the pundits and the political parties – this time, on matters of foreign policy and national security.

The latest results from the Confidence in US Foreign Policy Index are in. This survey, conducted jointly by Public Agenda and Foreign Affairs (the journal published by that citadel of the establishment – the Council on Foreign Relations), clearly reveals the American people's "increased skepticism about the use of military force and a corresponding inclination to favor diplomatic options instead."

In dealing with Iran, for example, only 8 percent support possible military action – taking that scenario, the report concluded, "virtually off of the table for most of the public." (However, never say never with this crowd in the White House and a Congress that fears being portrayed as "weak on terrorism.") In fact, "attacking countries that develop weapons of mass destruction ranked at the very bottom" of ways to strengthen our nation's security – this despite the fact that controlling the spread of nuclear weapons is the public's top national security priority.

When it comes to war, 70 percent of Americans believe that the US has been too quick to resort to armed conflict and a whopping 84 percent believe "initiating military force only when we have the support of our allies should be important to our foreign policy."

It is also very clear that Americans have had it with the Bush administration's disastrous and hypocritical efforts to "actively create democracies in other countries." This strategy consistently ranks at or near the bottom of the list of goals deemed important for strengthening our nation's security, and only 17 percent of the public feels it is "very important." 74 percent believe that "democracy is something countries come to on their own." These results point not to a new isolationism, but a kind of wisdom – an understanding and respect for other countries ability to find their own ways.

And in another revealing and encouraging measure of our times 75 percent worry about global warming and nearly two-thirds believe that international cooperation can reduce the climate change crisis – 34 percent say there is "a lot" the US government can do to address the problem. 70 percent say "cooperating with other countries on problems like the environment or control of disease" should be a very important foreign policy goal, second only to nuclear nonproliferation. 60 percent say global warming specifically should be a very important priority.

Finally, the top two priorities to strengthen national security have been consistent for two years running now – improving intelligence operations and increasing energy independence.

This survey is comprehensive – covering over 25 major policy areas in more than 130 questions. It used a national random sample of 1,013 adults over the age of 18 and has a three-point margin of error. What it tells us is this: Americans are learning crucial "postwar lessons" that will help determine the nature of the United States' engagement with the world. With little leadership from either party, the public has decided it's time to embark on a new course.

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