Americans Support Major Changes in U.S. Foreign Policy

New poll shows strong support for improving U.S. standing in the world,

setting timetable for Iraq withdrawal and talking to enemies

Sep 22, 2008, 01:00 ET from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

    CHICAGO, Sept. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Days before presidential
 candidates John McCain and Barack Obama square off in a debate on U.S.
 foreign policy, a new poll by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows
 significant support among the American public for a broad range of major
 changes in U.S. foreign policy. Among the poll's conclusions:
-- A large majority of Americans (81% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats) believe improving the U.S. standing in the world should be a "very important" foreign policy goal; -- Americans on both sides of the aisle endorse talking to leaders of "unfriendly" governments including Cuba (70%), North Korea (68%), Iran (65%), Burma (63%) and Zimbabwe (61%); -- A majority of Americans (67%) do not support an open-ended commitment to Iraq. "Americans remain committed to international engagement and a robust military presence overseas," concludes Marshall M. Bouton, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "But they also want international efforts to be more focused and selective, and to call upon the country's full diplomatic arsenal to resolve conflict, findings that both presidential candidates should take very seriously." Asked to rate a series of U.S. foreign policy goals, an overwhelming 83 percent said improving America's standing in the world was "very important." This goal received the highest rating of all of the 14 goals presented, even higher than "protecting the jobs of American workers" (80%). Americans also worried that the United States has recently lost leverage in the world. When asked whether the ability of the United States to achieve its foreign policy goals has increased, decreased, or remained the same in recent years, 53 percent said that it has decreased, while only 10 percent said it has increased. With respect to the Iraq war, a majority of Americans (67%) favored setting a timetable of no more than two years for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, with 24 percent saying they wanted most troops to leave "right away" and 43 percent wanting it to happen within the next two years. Only 32 percent favored keeping combat troops in Iraq "for as long as it takes to establish a more stable and secure Iraq." There was significant partisan divide on this question, with 58 percent of Republicans favoring an open-ended commitment, compared with only 9 percent of Democrats. The poll was conducted before the Bush administration announced, on August 21, "aspirational timetables" for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. At the same time, a majority of Americans also expressed substantial regrets about the war. Fifty-nine percent said the threat of terrorism has not been reduced by the war, and 76 percent agreed that "the war cost hundreds of billions that could have been spent on needs at home." Not withstanding significant concern about America's involvement in Iraq, the poll showed that a large majority of Americans strongly supported U.S. participation in a number of international treaties and agreements in which the United States has not taken part in the past. Eighty-eight percent said the U.S. should participate in a nuclear weapons test ban treaty, 76 percent supported participation in a new treaty to address climate change, and 68 percent would like the U.S. to sign on to the International Criminal Court which can try individuals for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity if their own country won't try them. Democrats and Republicans alike endorsed -- by wide margins -- talking with the leaders of countries considered unfriendly to the United States, including Cuba (70%), North Korea (68%), Iran (65%), Burma (63%), and Zimbabwe (61%). Slight majorities of Americans supported talking with Hamas (53%) and Hezbollah (51%), groups the U.S. considers to be terrorist organizations. While higher majorities of Democrats supported talks with these groups, majorities of Republicans did not. In addition, a bipartisan majority of Americans polled also showed a readiness to make a deal with Iran on its nuclear energy program, if Tehran were to allow United Nations weapons inspectors permanent and unfettered access to all of its facilities. In the poll, 56 percent of respondents agreed that Iran should be allowed to continue to produce nuclear fuel for generating electricity. "It is not difficult to see why both presidential candidates are putting so much emphasis on the theme of 'change,' said Steven Kull, Director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland and a consultant to the study. "They are trying to speak to the same feelings that came through in this poll. Americans want a significant retooling of America's relations with the world." And yet, even as Americans supported a number of changes in U.S. foreign policy, their commitment to a robust U.S. presence in the world has not wavered. Sixty-three percent continued to support the United States taking an active part in world affairs, and support for maintaining superior military power worldwide is holding steady, with 57 percent agreeing it was a "very important" foreign policy goal. Support for maintaining military bases around the world also remains strong and has increased in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan. When it comes to rooting out terrorists in Pakistan, Americans strongly favor going after terrorist leaders in their Pakistani hideouts. Asked what the United States should do if it locates high-ranking members of terrorist groups that threaten the United States operating in Pakistan, 68 percent believed the United States should take military action to capture or kill these terrorists even if the government of Pakistan does not give the permission to do so. The full report is available at: The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, founded in 1922, is a prominent, independent and nonpartisan organization committed to influencing the discourse on global issues through contributions to opinion and policy formation, leadership dialogue, and public learning. The Chicago Council has been conducting nationwide public opinion surveys on American views on foreign policy since 1972. These surveys provide insights into the current and long-term foreign policy attitudes of the American public on a wide range of global topics. For more information, please visit:

SOURCE The Chicago Council on Global Affairs