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Isolationist sentiment rising in U.S., poll says
Toronto Globe and Mail


November 18, 2005

Stirred by fear of another terrorist attack but disillusioned by the war in Iraq, Americans are increasingly turning their backs on the world, a major new survey of public attitudes shows.

Growing isolationist sentiment, now at levels matching those of the grim years after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, reflects mounting uncertainties about President Bush's war against Muslim extremism and efforts to spread democracy across the Middle East.

The flip side of this international gloom is a stubbornly high willingness to accept brutal tactics, including torture, to keep the United States safe, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center.



Nearly half the 2,006 people polled - 46 percent - believe torturing terrorism suspects to extract vital information is justified, while another 17 percent say it may be justified.

A parallel survey of elites - academicians, religious leaders, members of the press and military officers - shows only one in four approve of torture.

"The American public is far more open than opinion leaders to the use of torture," states the Pew analysis, noting those levels have remained unchanged despite a recent spate of news stories about secret prisons and allegations of brutality and mistreatment of detainees.

The survey, a sweeping review of U.S. opinion conducted every four years, suggests ordinary Americans are rattled by the grinding insurgency in Iraq, yet more hopeful of a successful outcome than the doubting elites.

Despite that optimism, the survey reflects a growing isolationist view among Americans.

Forty-two percent believe the United States should "mind its own business internationally."

"As the Iraq war has shaken the global outlook of American influentials, it has led to a revival of isolationist sentiment among the general public," the Pew analysis says.

The last survey was completed in the summer of 2001, just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that rocked the United States and turned Bush from a stay-at-home president into a global interventionist.

Support for the United Nations has slid to 54 percent, down from 67 percent three years ago. The president still gets his highest ratings for battling terrorism - 52 percent - although support there and in every other major policy area has slipped.

Some findings are startling. For instance, among military officers, Iraq is cited by nearly half as the "worst thing" in the president's foreign policy.

Iran and North Korea are pegged by opinion makers as the gravest threats to the United States. The Bush administration claims both have embarked on nuclear-weapons programs. The public still regards Iraq as the biggest threat.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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