After years of retrenchment in the wake of two costly wars, a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll finds that Americans increasingly are open to a larger U.S. role in trying to solve problems around the world.
The public remains conflicted over just how much the United States can and should do to address global challenges. But the initial shifts in public opinion could make it easier for President Obama to order more muscular options in striking Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq. If the trend continues, it could help shape the 2016 campaign to succeed him.
“This runs counter to this conventional wisdom that the public is isolationist,” says Bruce Jentleson, a former State Department adviser in the Obama administration who is now a professor at Duke and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “It’s not trigger-happy, but it’s also not totally gun-shy.”
In more problematic findings for the White House, the nationwide survey also shows broad dissatisfaction with Obama’s handling of crises in Russia, Iraq and the Middle East. A 54% majority, including some of his most reliable supporters, complain the president is “not tough enough” in his approach to foreign policy and national security issues.
The poll of 1,501 adults, taken by landline and cellphone Aug. 20-24, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
In the survey, 39% say the United States does too much in helping solve world problems; 31% say the U.S. does too little. That reflects a significant change from less than a year ago, when in a previous Pew Research Center poll Americans by an overwhelming 51%-17% said the U.S. did too much.
A 34-percentage-point gap in November 2013 has narrowed to 8 points now.
Among Democrats and independents, the percentage saying the U.S. does too little has jumped by about 10 points. The increase is even more striking in the GOP. In November, about one in five Republicans said the U.S. did too little; now nearly half do.
At a White House news conference Thursday, Obama announced he was dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East and confirmed he had asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for possible ISIS bombing targets in Syria. But when pressed about military action there, he said, “We don’t have a strategy yet” and cautioned: “Folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at.”
“There’s more challenges in the world; it’s getting worse,” Angela Chramer of Birmingham, Ala., said in a follow-up interview. The 51-year-old video producer, who was among those surveyed, says growing problems demonstrate the need for the United States to show leadership. “If we pull back, somebody worse takes over. That goes in the Middle East and that goes everywhere.”
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SOURCE: USA Today