Soon after I began working as a foreign correspondent in Central America, I was forced to the reluctant conclusion that what most people in the United States really want from the rest of the world, if given half a chance, is to forget about it. After September 11, 2001, there was renewed interest in faraway lands, but the implicit promise of the Bush administration as it launched its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was not to change the world, in fact, it was that the world would not change us. (This has been distilled into the oft-repeated notion that "we're fighting the terrorists there so we don't have to fight them at home.")
Well, every four years the Pew Research Center conducts a poll of what it describes as "the foreign policy attitudes of state and local government officials, security and foreign affairs experts, military officers, news media leaders, university and think tank leaders, religious leaders, and scientists and engineers, along with the general public." The latest just came out, and it shows that out of apathy or disgust, or maybe fear, we're turning our backs on the world once again:
Preoccupied with war abroad and growing problems at home, U.S. opinion leaders and the general public are taking a decidedly cautious view of America's place in the world. Over the past four years, opinion leaders have become less supportive of the United States playing a "first among equals" role among the world's leading nations. The goal of promoting democracy in other nations also has lost ground, and while most opinion leaders view President Bush's calls for expanded democracy in the Middle East as a good idea, far fewer think it will actually succeed.
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. Fully 42% of Americans say the United States should "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own." This is on par with the percentage expressing that view during the mid-1970s, following the Vietnam War, and in the 1990s after the Cold War ended. ...