Bush's Democracy Crusade Defies Public Opinion
George W. Bush faces a difficult challenge in rallying U.S. public
opinion behind his clarion call for spreading freedom and democracy
abroad, according to a number of surveys published over the last
polls show that the general public is, if anything, less inclined
to engage in a global crusade on behalf of democracy particularly
if it is undertaken unilaterally and militarily as in Iraq
than it was even two years ago.
one poll taken just last month found that only seven percent of
respondents believe the primary focus of U.S. foreign and security
policy should be on "building democracies in other regions,"
as opposed to what they considered substantially greater priorities,
such as "defending U.S. borders and homeland security,"
and strengthening alliances with other nations against a common
Iraq experience clearly has been a sobering one for Americans,"
said Pam Solo, president of the Massachusetts-based Civil Society
Institute (CSI), which commissioned the poll of some 2,100 voters.
are embracing a 'new realism' in foreign policy and security matters
that puts more emphasis on safer U.S. borders, intelligence gathering,
diplomatic initiatives, multi-national interventions when necessary,
and greater energy efficiency in order to decrease America's dependence
on Middle Eastern oil."
his inaugural speech Thursday, Bush stressed in no uncertain terms
that the major policy priority of his second term in office will
be to "seek and support the growth of democratic movements
and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate
goal of ending tyranny in our world."
also made clear that he saw the export and promotion of democracy
and freedom abroad as integral to the country's defense and security.
Recalling what he called "a day of fire" the September
11, 2001, attack on New York and the Pentagon by radical Islamists
he insisted that it led "to one conclusion: The survival
of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty
in other lands."
best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in
all the world," he declared, adding that, while "America's
influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's
influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's
also stressed that ending tyranny will not be "primarily the
task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by
force of arms when necessary."
polls taken over the past three years suggest that public support
for exporting democracy overseas particularly through military
means was never particularly high in the U.S. and, has actually
diminished, probably as a result of setbacks in Iraq.
July, for example, a poll carried out by the Pew Research Center
for the People & and the Press asked respondents to choose their
"top priorities" among 19 foreign policy issues. Of the
19, "promot(ing) democracy abroad" rated 18, just ahead
of "improving living standards in poor nations."
democracy option actually rated higher when Pew asked the same question
just before the September 11 attacks. But, while 29 percent of respondents
rated it as a "top priority" then, only 24 percent rated
it the same way in 2004.
results of a more-comprehensive foreign policy survey taken at the
same time the latest in a series produced periodically by
the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR) since the 1970s
reached a similar conclusion.
to bring a democratic form of government to other nations"
rated dead last out of 14 "foreign policy goals" that
it listed for respondents. It was far below even middle-ranking
goals, such as "improving the global environment" or "strengthening
the United Nations."
fact, the importance of democracy promotion, according to the CCFR
survey's analysts, fell to its lowest relative level in almost three
decades when the poll was taken in May and June 2004.
bare majority of 53 percent of the same respondents, however, said
they favored using foreign aid to promote democracy abroad, against
40 percent who opposed it. Nonetheless, that 53 percent also marked
a substantial decline from the 69 percent who said they supported
using foreign aid to promote democracy when the same question was
asked in 2002 before the Iraq invasion.
to using the U.S. military to promote democracy was even stronger
among respondents. When asked whether U.S. troops should be used
to install democratic governments in states ruled by dictators,
63 percent of the CCFR respondents opposed the idea, while only
30 percent favored it.
same poll found that Americans do not favor even rather mild democratization
efforts in the Middle East. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said
the U.S. should not put "greater pressure" on countries
in the Middle East to become more democratic. More than two thirds
of respondents oppose the expenditure of billions of dollars "to
reconstruct and democratize" the Middle East, as Washington
did in Europe after World War II.
yet another poll, by the University of Maryland's Program on International
Policy Attitudes (PIPA), taken in November 2003 eight months
after the Iraq invasion respondents were asked whether they
agreed "the U.S. has the right and even the responsibility
to overthrow dictatorships and help their people build a democracy."
The results were remarkably consistent with the later CCFR findings:
Thirty-four percent said Washington should indeed do so, while a
solid 59 percent majority said it had no such right or responsibility.
same PIPA poll also asked which was the higher priority for the
U.S. capturing Osama bin Laden and breaking up al-Qaeda or
capturing former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and "establish(ing)
a democracy in Iraq." Three out of four respondents said bin
Laden and al-Qaeda were more important, while only one in five opted
for Iraqi democracy.
also asked respondents whether the U.S. was doing too much, too
little, or enough to promote democracy in the Middle East. Nearly
half said enough, while 10 percent said it was doing too much, and
only eight percent said it should do more.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 One World