Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Dec 29 2006 (IPS) — If U.S. President George W. Bush is serious about pursuing a foreign policy that can command bipartisan support, the basic elements of one already exists, according to a new analysis of seven comprehensive polls on foreign policy attitudes taken over the past nine months.

But though those elements are supported by a majority of his fellow Republicans, they would lead Bush, who is increasingly being assailed here as obstinate and bull-headed, in directions he has so far rejected.

The study, released by Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland’s Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), concludes that most Republicans and Democrats want to begin withdrawing – rather than adding, as Bush reportedly prefers – U..S. troops from Iraq next year, and that they favour better relations with Iran, and a more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than has been pursued by the administration to date.

Bipartisan majorities also oppose higher military budgets and the imposition of regime change and democracy by military force, favour laws that would limit the emission of greenhouse gases that most scientists believe contribute to global warming, and want to strengthen the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, according to the study.

“Should Democrats and Republicans in government aspire to find common ground on foreign policy, the American public can provide them with guidance on a wide range of international issues,” said Kull, who stressed that there was far more consensus on such issues in the general public than appeared to exist among elected officials from both parties, including Congress, in Washington.

Indeed, the 34-page study comes as the capital is bracing for next week’s arrival of the new Congress in which Democrats, who will hold majorities in both houses for the first time since 1994, appear more willing to challenge Bush, particularly on Iraq and various other issues like climate change, than in the previous six years.

While in the wake of the Republican defeat in last month’s election, Bush said he hopes to work closely with Democrats in the new Congress, most analysts here believe that he and Vice President Dick Cheney are more determined than ever to “stay the course”, particularly in Iraq, with perhaps only minor tactical adjustments.

That conviction has grown as Bush and his top aides appear to have cast aside the main recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), namely a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq over 15 months and direct engagement with Syria and Iran as part of a larger regional effort to both stabilise Iraq and promote a final Arab-Israeli peace.

Instead, the administration seems to favour “surging” as many as 35,000 new U.S. troops to Iraq to add to the 140,000 who are already deployed there and forging a de facto coalition between Israel and conservative Sunni-led states designed to confront Iran and Syria and weaken their allies in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

PIPA’s analysis is based on detailed polling since last March, including one conducted earlier this month by its own WorldPublicOpinion.org, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Public Agenda, a group affiliated with the influential Council on Foreign Relations.

Among the issues covered are how U.S. citizens see their country’s role in the world; when U.S. military force should be used; the importance of preventing nuclear proliferation; attitudes toward multilateral institutions and foreign policy priorities, including human rights, the environment, and international trade; and specific policy initiatives, especially in the Middle East and Asia. The study highlights views on which a strong majority of self-described Republicans and Democrats agreed.

On the specific regional issues, PIPA found strong support in its December poll in both parties for the main recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which was co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, including withdrawing almost all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2008 (Republicans 62 percent, Democrats 88 percent); and directly engaging with Iran and Syria about Iraq (Republicans 72 percent, Democrats 82 percent). Majorities in both parties (Republicans 58 percent, Democrats 80 percent) also agreed that the U.S. should be even-handed towards both Palestinians and Israelis.

Similar majorities (Republicans 56 percent, Democrats 88 percent) said they believed that the U.S. government should build better relations with the Tehran rather than try to change its behaviour through implied military threats, and that the U.S. should offer to give North Korea security guarantees if Pyongyang is willing to eliminate its nuclear weapons (Republicans 61 percent, Democrats 82 percent).

Contrary to the Bush administration’s view, bipartisan majorities also said they believe government spending on defence should not be increased (Republicans 61 percent, Democrats 83 percent). They also agree that a substantially larger slice of the federal government’s overall international affairs budget be spent on diplomacy, humanitarian and disaster relief, and other forms of non-military assistance.

Indeed, in the “war on terror”, 52 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Democrats believe that the administration should put more emphasis on diplomatic and economic methods, as opposed to military methods, than it has to date.

Strong majorities in each party (Republicans 66 percent, 85 percent of Democrats) believe that the U.S. is playing the “role of global policeman more than it should be” and reject (62 percent Republicans, 81 percent Democrats) the proposition that the U.S.. “should not worry too much about whether other countries agree with (our policies) or not.”

By strong majorities, respondents (Republicans 64 percent, Democrats 89 percent) agree that the Bush administration’s policies over the past six years had reduced goodwill towards the U.S. In that connection, 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats said it was either “very” or “somewhat important” to national security that the rest of the world sees the U.S. and its policies in a favourable light.

Roughly two out of three respondents in both parties said the United States should not use military force to impose democratic change, although the same percentages said they could support its use to stop a humanitarian catastrophe. Almost three out of four respondents in both parties said it could be used to stop genocide. Two out of three said they would support sending U.S. troops to Sudan as part of an international force to “stop the killing in Darfur.”

That U.S. citizens favour the adoption of a foreign policy that enjoys bipartisan support is made clear in several questions asked over the last nine months. Nine in 10 respondents from both parties said they wanted a foreign policy based on “common ground” between Republicans and Democrats, while 59 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats said they preferred a foreign policy that represented the views of the majority of the public as a whole, as opposed to those of the majority of their own party.

Whether Bush takes heed remains to be seen.


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