They Really Do Get It
Posted by David Shorr
The latest version of the Public Agenda Foundation's Confidence in US Foreign Policy Index reminds us how receptive Americans are to a change in the direction of our policy. I'll start with my personal favorite. As I've said before, I think that discomfort with America's negative image internationally is the most powerful lever available on the public's attitude. So here's what the Public Agenda survey found: roughly two out of three Americans believe the US is viewed negatively by the rest of the world AND that a positive international image is important for our national security. This survey question is coming up in a number of different polls (by different organizations); in fact, I believe every opinion research outfit should be asking this.
Similar two-thirds majorities believe that the US should use diplomatic and economic methods to combat terrorism (as opposed to military methods), relations with the rest of the world are on the wrong track, the US is doing a fair or poor job in creating a more peaceful and prosperous world, and the world is becoming more dangerous for the United States. Actually that last one is a three-quarters majority. Slight majorities agree that we should withdraw from Iraq even if it leads to increased violence, that it is very important for our foreign policy to take into account the views and interests of other countries, and that we can fight terrorism without ever resorting to torture -- with a bigger majority believing that our safety from terrorism does not depend on our success in Iraq.
Public Agenda is interested in Americans' confidence in our foreign policy, so their research tries to pinpoint what the public believes are the most effective approaches. Study coauthor Scott Bittle, who gave the briefing in which I took part, highlighted the public's interest in strategies whose leverage over threats is relatively straightforward: energy independence tops the list, followed by better intelligence collection, and immigration control. These results seem to cut against my stated belief that the public would back a broad-gauge strategy based on promoting overall increases in peace and prosperity. But wait, in a respectable fourth place among foreign policy strategies (with a narrow majority) was "showing more respect for the needs and views of other countries," which seems to validate my thesis about the perceived importance of getting back in synch with the rest of the world.
While I'm pleading for pollsters to ask my favorite questions, here's another that I've liked ever since the first time I saw it asked by the Program on Internationanl Policy Attitudes:
The United States should look beyond its own self-interest and do what’s best for the world as a whole, because in the long run this will probably help make the kind of world that is best for the US.
I think these kinds of questions touching on global interdependence, often drawing support from overwhelming majorities, show where the entry point is for progressive foreign policy. Now what does this really mean for the progressive message? Well, here's a line from last night in St. Paul, where the Democratic nominee said it's time to
...rally the world against the common threats of the 21st century -- terrorism and nuclear weapons, climate change and poverty, genocide and disease.
If you're only going to say one thing (aside from Iraq, Afghanistan, energy), this is what it should be, as often as possible.