US voters hope for softer Bush term

Jim Lobe:

If US President George W Bush steers his foreign policy in a more multilateralist direction, he will have strong support from both Republican and Democratic voters for doing so, according to a new survey and analysis based on several major polls on foreign-policy attitudes conducted over the last six months.

However, Republican voters were considerably more optimistic than Democrats that Bush will in fact embrace a more multilateralist policy and less militaristic policy, according to the survey, which was designed by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and carried out by California-based Knowledge Networks (KN) in late December.

The 33-page analysis, entitled “Opportunities for Bipartisan Consensus: What Both Republicans and Democrats Want in Foreign Policy”, was released by PIPA Tuesday, just two days before Bush is to be sworn in for his second term as president. Most Democrats believe that Bush is likely to continue on the same trajectory that he followed in his first term. But Republicans, according to a series of polls, believe that he will put a higher priority on maintaining Washington’s traditional alliances and strengthening multilateral institutions, and be more willing to compromise with them on key international issues, including what to do about Iran’s and North Korea’s alleged nuclear-weapons programmes.

The study, which is aimed at identifying specific areas of consensus shared by strong majorities of Republican and Democratic voters, is based primarily on the massive Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR) survey, which has been conducted every four years since 1976 and then again last July, and a series of PIPA surveys taken from July through late December. The CCFR poll found that about four in five US voters agreed with the statement: “The US is playing the role of world policeman more than it should be”.

When PIPA asked in December whether a second Bush administration would be more willing to make decisions within the UN framework, 73 per cent of Republicans said yes, while 77 per cent of Democrats predicted no change in the administration’s behaviour. In July, three of four Republicans and four of five Democrats told CCFR pollsters that Washington should contribute US troops to UN peacekeeping forces if asked to do so. In December, 81 per cent of Republican voters said they assumed that Bush also favours participation, while 60 per cent of Democrats took that view.

As in the CCFR poll in July, PIPA found relatively little bipartisan support for increasing the US defence budget in December, although Republican sentiment was split down the middle. On this issue, however, both Republicans and Democrats told PIPA in December they thought the administration would push for such an increase. On the question of Iraq, the latest survey found substantial consensus for the US to keep its troops there for now, with only 10 per cent of Republicans and 42 per cent of Democrats saying they wanted to total withdrawal over the next six months.

The latest polls showed a strong bipartisan consensus that US should withdraw its troops if the new Iraqi government so requests. A similar consensus was found in opposition to the US establishing permanent bases in Iraq. On Iran, the December poll found strong support for the US trying to deal with Teheran through building better relations rather than through military threats or action, with 61 per cent of Republicans and 86 per cent of Democrats agreeing with such a strategy.

The poll, however, found wide disagreement as to what Bush is actually likely to do. —IPS