American Public Found to Hold `Internationalist' Policy Views New Data Refute Assumption That US Is Nation of Isolationists

By Keith Henderson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 3, 1993 | Go to article overview

American Public Found to Hold `Internationalist' Policy Views New Data Refute Assumption That US Is Nation of Isolationists


Keith Henderson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


PRESIDENT Clinton has asked his foreign-policy team to reassess the American response to events in Bosnia, with an eye to taking a more energetic role in resolving that crisis. At the same time, he faces a widening role in Somalia, with United States forces now launching larger-scale operations against the warlords' militias.

These crises may be laying the groundwork for a new era in US foreign policy, when humanitarian concerns as much as strategic interests will impel involvement abroad.

But while a stronger US commitment to bring peace and justice to turbulent regions may be applauded in many parts of the world, one quarter counts the most: the American public. Will the people, whose taxes and whose sons and daughters in uniform ultimately underpin foreign policy, go along with the new activism?

An isolationist streak often is assumed to run deep among Americans, especially in tough economic times. Research compiled by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, however, tends to refute that assumption.

From the pre-World War II years right through the Gulf war and the Somalia crisis, Americans have shown a strong awareness of events abroad and a readiness to get involved, says Everett C. Ladd, director of the Roper Center.

He suggests that the country's average citizens share with its policymaking elite a sense that the US has a large role to play in the world - that, in some sense, "it's our show." That, along with humanitarian concern, helps explain solid public support for intervention in Somalia, he says.

There have been exceptions, of course. Former President Reagan was never able to mobilize public support behind his inclination to intervene in Central America, and Vietnam eventually exhausted the public's patience.

The success of future interventions could rest first on the president's ability to spell out a rationale the public can grasp and support, and, second, on international burden-sharing.

"You can't use military power without strong public backing," observes Rep. …

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