Media Conference Call: America's Place in the World (Audio)

Media Conference Call: America's Place in the World (Audio)

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Polls and Public Opinion

ANYA SCHMEMANN: Good morning, everyone. I'm Anya Schmemann. I'm director of communications at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you for joining us today.

It's our great pleasure to have this conversation this morning. We have on the line with us Andrew Kohut, who is president of the Pew Research Center and also director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press; and James Lindsay, who is senior vice president, director of studies and the Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations.

We're here this morning to discuss a new poll that was released this morning by Pew called "America's Place in the World," which is the fifth in a series of quadrennial studies that compares public views on foreign policy with the views of foreign policy influentials.

This survey had a random sample of more than 600 Council on Foreign Relations members and compared that with a public survey of 2,000 adults. And Andrew Kohut will give us more detail on that.

But the survey revealed some interesting and, in fact, some surprising results. Two of the headlines were that isolationist sentiment has surged and that many respondents also saw China as emerging as a more and more powerful player on the global scene.

Andy, if I may ask you to just give us a quick survey -- an overview of this survey and some of the more interesting findings?

ANDREW KOHUT: Sure. Thank you, Anya.

This is the -- we started these surveys back in 1993, and they always give us a broad sense of the way that public and opinion leaders are looking at international issues. And the overarching theme that I see is that both groups are apprehensive and uncertain about America's place in the world.

Growing numbers say that the United States will play a less important role -- powerful role -- as a world leader; 41 percent of the public, 44 percent of CFR members. That's the highest that we've had in the five surveys that we've conducted.

Now, part of this may be another thing that comes flying out of this survey, and that is the extent to which Americans see the increasing stature of China. For CFR members, China has been transformed in a few short years from a major threat to the United States to an important future ally. Just 21 percent of the CFR members said China's emergence as a world power is a major threat. It was almost as high as 40 percent back in 2001.

And one of the more surprising findings is that, when we asked CFR members unaided to predict who will be our most important allies in the future, China came to the top of the list; 58 percent cited it along with India. And that's much, much higher than we saw four years ago. And we saw fewer mentions among CFR members of our traditional allies in Western Europe.

The public takes a less benign view of China's rise than do CFR members; 53 percent continue to see it as a threat -- its emerging power as a threat to the United States, although, they're not really negative attitudes toward China, just worry. And more dramatically, 44 percent, for the first time, a plurality of Americans think that China, not the United States, is the world's leading economic power.

Now, some of this may have to do with the other headline that Anya mentioned, and that is an extraordinary spike in isolationist, unilateralist sentiment. We asked some questions that have been tracked by Pew and Gallup since 1964, and we have the highest ever percentage, 49 percent, agreeing with the statement that the U.S. should mind its own business internationally. That 49 (percent) has typically averaged about 25 percent over the years. You know, it's been higher right after Vietnam and after the collapse of the Soviet Union when people felt they didn't have to look to the larger world as much.

But we hadn't seen anything like that in this measure and other measures that track internationalist sentiment versus isolationist sentiment. I think part of the reason here is the American public's focus on a bad economy and, also, feeling badly about the world. There are two wars that the public thinks are not going well and terrorist concerns are even greater than they were four years ago. So the American public is not looking fondly at the rest of the world.

Now, for CFR members, they continue to strongly support the United States playing an assertive role in the world. Most say the U.S. should play a first-among-equals role among leading nations. Relatively few say we should be the leader of the world -- a single world leader; 7 percent I think it was.

But even among CFR members, we see a pretty consistent decline in assistant -- in priority for assistance-oriented policy goals. For example, the percentage saying we should promote democracy abroad, that should be a high priority has declined rather precipitously. The percentage saying that we should defend human rights and improve living standards -- all of these numbers are down across the board compared to 2005 and especially compared to 2001.

The survey did -- I'll touch on Afghanistan. I'll just say a few words about it. Both the public and the opinion leaders agree on two things. One, the war has not been going well; and, secondly, both are skeptical that Afghanistan can stand on its own and resist the strength of the Taliban and other extremist groups once there's not an outside force helping them.

Having said that, there's a fair amount of support among CFR members for increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, but just a third of the public agreed with that.

Just two more quick points. President Obama gets much higher ratings on foreign policy from CFR members than from the public. But both CFR members and the public gave him his lowest ratings for dealing with trade and for dealing with Afghanistan.

The CFR members give very high praise to Obama for his strategy of engagement or his policy of engagement in diplomacy.

Finally, one of the biggest gaps in the survey has to do with priorities or threats -- perceived threats. And for 85 percent of CFR members, political instability in Pakistan is a major threat; the number one thing on their list. The public is less concerned about Pakistan -- expresses less concern about Pakistan but expressed more concern about North Korea and China's growing power.

I think I'll leave it there, Anya.

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thank you, Andy.

Jim, Andrew Kohut walked us through some of the findings of this survey, but obviously this week, President Obama just announced a surge and a new strategy for the United States in Afghanistan. What -- in your opinion, what are the implications of the findings of this poll for President Obama's policies going forward and, particularly, Afghanistan?

JAMES M. LINDSAY: Thank you, Anya. And I want to complement Andy and his team for doing some excellent work. Andy's at the pinnacle of the polling profession, and he's once again put out some very good poll results.

I would say to answer your specific question, Anya, that when it comes to foreign policy, what the Pew/CFR Poll tells us is that the president is sailing into a stiff wind. This is true both in terms of the specific issue of Afghanistan but also the president's approach to foreign policy more broadly.

And the president runs the risk, unless he can produce obvious successes either in Afghanistan or in foreign policy more broadly, of finding the public giving him very, very low marks on foreign policy and finding himself politically challenged to accomplish his foreign policy agenda.

Let me talk specifically about Afghanistan and then I'll move on and talk about the president's political problems more broadly.

On Afghanistan, what is striking from the poll results -- and the poll was done the latter part of October, early part of November before the president's decision was announced though, obviously, some of the details had leaked out before the speech on Tuesday night.

But you have two out of five Americans favoring cutting troops in Afghanistan and only one in five favoring keeping troops steady. So before the president gives his speech, the American public is basically in a mood to get smaller or stay the same in Afghanistan and not to go larger.

So we're going to be able to see whether the president's speech on Tuesday night and the efforts by the White House team to try to change the conversation is going to move public opinion very much and, just as important, whether any bump in the president's speech in lasting. My guess is probably not.

One of the other interesting things coming out of the poll, and specifically on Afghanistan, is that the public and also the Council on Foreign Relations members are pessimistic that we can succeed in Afghanistan; 57 percent of CFR members and 47 percent of the public say it is unlikely that Afghanistan will ever become stable enough to withstand the Taliban threat.

And my guess is as long as the public and influentials are persuaded that Afghanistan can't be fixed, it's going to be very hard to sustain strong public support for staying in Afghanistan.

When you look at the poll more broadly, as Andy pointed out, the poll suggests the public is not terribly excited about being engaged overseas. We're hitting all-time highs on the so-called isolationism question about whether America should be involved in the world or not. And, also, on the question of whether you United States should be willing to go its own way, which also hit a high -- and I believe it's sort of about 10 points higher than the previous high which was registered back in 1995.

As Andy pointed out, it's easy to see why. You have bad economic times and, generally speaking, when the economy didn't, so does the public's enthusiasm for activity abroad. The public, understandably, wants its politicians to worry about fixing problems at home and less worried about fixing problems overseas.

And I think that is going to color much of the debate going forward. Obviously, for the president, being a Democrat, his basic constituency very much wants to see a greater amount of attention spent on domestic issues. And what's really interesting in the poll, when you break it down, is that there's also a fairly strong sentiment among Republicans -- I believe it was 43 percent of Republicans compared to, I think, it was 53 percent of Democrats who wanted us to mind our own business in foreign affairs.

Another issue that's sort of lurking in the background for the president is the public and the elite's perception of the ability of the president to handle foreign policy challenges. And looking at the polls, nearly half the public -- I think it's about 47 percent -- and a third of council members worry that the president is not assertive enough in dealing with the challenges facing the United States.

And so I think in this respect, not just Afghanistan but Iran could become a defining challenge for the president's foreign policy agenda. Obviously, Tehran is thumbing its nose at the president's diplomacy. It doesn't look likely that the United States is going to strike against Iran's nuclear facilities because of the consequences and costs. And if Iran should succeed in getting the bomb, I think it's likely to say that the president's critics are not going to cite Iran's determination. They're going to blame Obama's weakness.

And that looks to be a charge that many people are prepared to believe. So the president clearly has a vulnerability both in Afghanistan, on foreign policy more broadly. I would say that the White House can find good news in the Pew/CFR Poll.

As Andy pointed out, the president still gets good marks overall with 51 percent of the public and 77 percent of council members approving of the job he's doing. The percentage of the public that thinks that America is less respected in the world has dropped. And as Andy pointed out, a large section of the council membership applauds his multilateralism, his engagement or his diplomacy.

But nonetheless, I think, going forward, the president faces an uphill battle in securing domestic support for Afghanistan. The public is not persuaded that the war can be won at an acceptable cost. It's particularly true among Democrats. Tough economic times have turned people's attention inward and, specifically, on Afghanistan.

If the surge strategy does not produce quick results or it leads to a spike in American casualties, the president's going to find himself under intense pressure to reverse course. Now, it's important to emphasize that the president, on foreign policy matters, can go against public opinion. George Bush showed that quite dramatically with his surge in Iraq.

But the political cost to the rest of the president's agenda can be sharp, it can be steep. And the question will be is the president willing to pay the cost to stay the course in Afghanistan.

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thank you, Jim.

We should clarify that this survey was conducted in October and November. So, of course, before President Obama's Tuesday speech. But the findings, of course, are still relevant.

The survey and the report can be found on the Pew Research Center Web site at The report includes commentary by Jim Lindsay. In addition, there is an additional analysis listed on the Council of Foreign Relations Web site by Jim Lindsay at

For those of you who have joined us late, we have Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center and James Lindsay on the Council on Foreign Relations on the line. And with that, I will turn it over to your questions.

So, Joe, if you could give us the first questioner, that would be great.

OPERATOR: At this time, we will open the floor for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touch-tone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order which they are received. If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, please press star two.

Again, to ask a question, it is star one on your touch-tone phone now.

And our first question comes from Garrett Mitchell from the Mitchell Report.

SCHMEMANN: Hi, Garrett.


Andy and Jim, thanks very much. I have two questions. I think the first one will be pretty quick. I'm not certain whether I heard it correctly, but in these numbers about support for troops in Afghanistan, 50 percent council members, 41 percent general public, if I have that right.

Do you know from this survey whether that is a response to sort of the Afghan circumstances per se, whether that's a reflection of war weariness, whether it's about domestic priorities? In other words, are there sort of internals that put some flesh around why those numbers are at 50 percent and 41 percent?

And the second question goes to the U.S. less important finding. And my question there is do we know whether that is a statement about the public's perception that we're not being effective? Or is that some version of sort of right direction-wrong direction and less about specifics and more about sort of people's feelings?

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thanks, Gary.

Andy, if you could just clarify those numbers on support for a troop surge or not.

KOHUT: Yeah. The percentage of CFR members favoring a troop surge was 50 percent, and for the public, it's 32 percent. About 51 percent overall of the public favors either keeping the same or increasing. For CFR members, that total is 69 percent.

I think that the decline in support for use of force in Afghanistan and tepid response to the call for more troops reflects the view that the war is not going well. We can see that in the tracking that we've been doing in our other national surveys.

As the focus shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan and the casualty counts went up, we saw the number of people who are supportive of the war decline among the general public. So I think that's a lot of what's going on there.

I think it's also important to remember, however, that, unlike Iraq, you still have a majority of Americans continuing to say we were right to go in there in the first place. So there's not a discredit to the notion of the mission, just a great deal of uneasiness about the way it's going. And I think that's largely what this represents right now. Although, that too can change.

Jim do you want to take the other question about power?

LINDSAY: Certainly. If I may, just to add one thing about, you know, the question of what's causing the skepticism about a surge. I think Andy is quite right in that I think the polls, if you look at them over time, show that, as the focus has shifted to Afghanistan and as U.S. casualties have gone up, the public has become concerned and skeptical that this is going to lead to a good outcome.

But I also think the economy and general concerns about the fiscal health of the United States begin to play in here, and they're a certain background against a lot of this is going to play out which is why arguments about cost will become more important politically, both because people want to know why we're not spending money here at home and also the extent to which people are worried about the deficit.

Though I do think that the primary driver of going forward will be American casualties, which is why one of the dangers of the surge is that it could produce a spike in casualties that further undermines support for the policy because the people are worried about losing American lives in an endeavor they think is not highly likely to work out.

On the question about power and why people are down on the United States, I think it's pretty clear -- and Andy knows even more than I do on this -- that as the economy goes up or goes down, the public's sort of perception of the U.S. predominance or lack thereof varies as well.

And it's not -- I wouldn't really point to the F word, "feelings," that you mentioned, Gary, but I would say fear. And looking at it, what's remarkable is if you go back, let's say, to the late 1980's at the end of the Cold War as the U.S. economy slumped, a majority of Americans believed that Japan had passed the United States as an economic power.

So I think that, you know, the question you see about the declining faith of the American public in the U.S. as the world's leading economic power, that that really reflects quite dramatically the concerns that have come about because of the global financial crisis. We have suffered greatly as a country, and to judge by news media clippings, the Chinese have survived the crisis in much better shape than we have. And I think that's what's at play here.

And it's important to point out that what bad economic times can take away, it can give back. And if the American economy turns around and we see some sustained period of economic growth, I would expect to see these poll numbers change yet again.

KOHUT: I would add just one quick thing on that, Jim. I largely agree with you, but I think there's probably something else going on here.

We had eight years of an assertive national foreign policy, and that foreign policy, in the end, was judged to be unsuccessful. And coming away from an experience like that, I think, would leave some Americans to believe that we're going to play a less influential role, a less powerful role in the world.

LINDSAY: Well -- and that certainly can be seen in the answers to the question about should we mind our own business. I mean, I think that clearly reflects, in great part, people feeling burned by the last eight years.

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thanks. I'm seeing quite a few people on the phones, so I'm going ask questioners to limit their questions to one and to be as brief as possible.

We'll take another caller, Operator.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Barry Schweid from Associated Press.


QUESTIONER: Hi. Thank you.

Jim, it'll be one question. If I have my notes right, you said nearly half of the public is worried the president is not assertive enough in defending the interests of the United States, not only in Afghanistan. You also said if Iran gets the bomb, the public is going to blame Obama's weakness.

Are these responses to the specific questions or your conclusion from the nature of the poll -- I mean, the results of the poll? And secondly, I don't know where you guys are going with this. The public doesn't want to assert itself with troops in Afghanistan and yet he's not assertive enough. I can't put it together.

LINDSAY: I'm sorry. I have to ask you if you could rephrase the first part of your question because I'm not sure I quite followed it.

QUESTIONER: Well, those statements -- those two statements --


QUESTIONER: -- are they conclusions you've drawn or are they responses to questions? And secondly, assertive -- not assertive enough and yet where it comes to asserting the U.S.' interests in Afghanistan, the public is hedging, in fact, isolationism is growing.

So can those exist side by side?

LINDSAY: Well, the answer to the second part of your question is yes. I mean, to go back to the first question -- the first part of your question, there is a question in the poll which asks people about whether they think that, in foreign policy, President Obama is tough enough, too tough -- I forget the exact -- Andy could remind me the exact --

KOHUT: Forceful is the word.

LINDSAY: Forceful. And -- but, you know, clearly I think it's 47 percent of the public worry that he's not assertive enough --

KOHUT: Tough enough, I'm sorry.

LINDSAY: -- tough enough. Public is "tough enough," and I think the language is slightly different in the CFR member question.

So I'm simply reporting what the results are, and then I'm inferring from that that, if the public is skeptical or concerned -- a concern they have about President Obama is that he will not be tough enough to defend their interests; that if events happened that would confirm that narrative, the president will have a bigger problem going down the road.

In the case of Afghanistan, I don't believe that the poll results suggest that the public's afraid that we're not being assertive enough in Afghanistan. I think what the poll suggests is that, for many Americans, certainly more than half of them, believe that Afghanistan is not worth -- is not likely to turn out well and they're not persuaded that sending more troops is going to work.

Now keep in mind that those are statements about majorities. And majority implies minorities. And there are clearly people who believe that the United States should be sending more troops to Afghanistan.

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thanks. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Heather Maher from Radio Free Europe.

SCHMEMANN: Go ahead, Heather.

QUESTIONER: Hi there. Can you hear me?


QUESTIONER: I was wondering if the poll -- the report, which I haven't had a chance to review -- I apologize -- said anything about Russia that was different from what the American public in the past has said about Russia in terms of viewing it as a threat or a potential partner.

SCHMEMANN: Yeah, Andy. You mentioned Pakistan and North Korea and China, of course, but is there anything on Russia?

KOHUT: Well, one of the questions that we've been asking about Russia is whether it's an enemy or a problem or neither. And few Americans now see Russia as an enemy. Most see Russia as a problem or -- and a relatively few say it's not an issue.

And Russia has, obviously, over the years, it's declined as a threat in the views of the public. So the public doesn't certainly put it at the top of its list as it once did. And we only get, you know, 2 percent of the public saying Russia represents the greatest danger to the United States. You've got 21 percent saying Iran represents the greatest danger to the United States.

SCHMEMANN: OK. Thank you. Next question?

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from -- (Inaudible) -- from China Daily USA.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm -- (Inaudible). Yeah. I want to know why -- I mean, the public's view about China and the CFR members are so different. I mean, the members seem to be so favorable and even consider China as an ally, and why the public attitude remains largely unchanged. Thank you.

KOHUT: You're going to keep getting the same answer from Jim and me, and that is the economy. I think, in an era where the public feels that China has surpassed the United States economically and people are feeling very, very badly about the American economy, it's not unreasonable that people would conclude that China represents a threat.

But to put this into perspective, China is not -- people don't look at China in a very unfriendly way. Some do, but not most.

But clearly, the viewpoint of CFR members looking at China differently than four and eight years ago and seeing China as an important future ally stand quite distinct from the American public.

SCHMEMANN: Andy, just to make sure that we're getting an accurate view, could you just repeat some of those important numbers on China?

KOHUT: The important numbers on China, I am not sure exactly what you're reflect -- you're asking for there.

Twenty-one percent of CFR members view China's emergence as a world threat; 53 percent of the public continues to see China emergence as a power as a major threat to the United States. And 58 percent of CFR members volunteer that China will be a more important ally in the future, just 31 percent said that four years ago.

LINDSAY: And, Anya, if I just may jump in to the gentleman from China Daily USA to provide some additional context. It's not uncommon in these polls to find that polling of influentials looks different from polling of the broad public. And, again, I mean, Andy has been very good on this over the years in doing these surveys.

If you look at a whole variety of issues -- and this is done in this quadrennial survey -- there are significant gaps between influential opinion and mass public opinion. So the China difference is not unprecedented or unusual.

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thanks. Next question, please?

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Howard LaFranchi from Christian Science Monitor.

OPERATOR: Hi, Howard. Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Yeah. Thank you.

I'm wondering, the other night in President Obama's speech, he did get around to talking about -- and I'm liberally paraphrasing here -- but he said the country he's interested in building up is our country. And I noticed after that either hearing or reading, especially some Republican commentators, in one case even using the word "isolationist thinking" in the president's speech.

But I'm wondering if that kind of putting the emphasis on, you know, we have to do this so that we can get back to addressing our own problems, if that might be able to win the president some support with the American public and in -- and I know this wasn't in the survey, but if you gentlemen hear that isolationist kind of strain coming through the president's words.

KOHUT: Well, it's not my job to second guess what the president meant, but, clearly, in the first part of his speech, emphasizing how much Afghanistan was of interest to the United States -- which many Americans continue to see that this is a major threat to the United States -- he was making the case in terms of self-interest as opposed to America dealing with global stability or whatever.

So I think that part of it -- as I listened to it, I thought, well, that's a pretty effective way to approach this from a public point of view because the public is very much concerned about its own interests these days. And I guess that would be my response to that question.

LINDSAY: If I may -- this is Jim Lindsay. I agree with what Andy said, particularly about our inability to read what the president's motives were in giving the speech. But as outsider reading the speech or listening to it, I mean, it's pretty clear that the speech, as all presidential speeches are, is designed to mobilize the public, keep the president's coalition together, put the president's opponents on the defensive.

And in giving that speech, the White House understandably knew that it had to address concerns from different parts of the political spectrum. And the speech, in many ways, was crafted to speak to a variety of different constituencies.

To more conservative parts of the political spectrum, the president was saying I'm going to support the generals. We're going to put more troops in. We're going to do our best to defeat the Taliban.

But at the same time, what the president is trying to say to other parts of the political spectrum, particularly to parts of his constituency, is this is not going to be an open-ended endeavor. We're going to get back. We're going to reduce American troop presence. I understand that we have things here at home to attend to.

So the president was trying to speak to different constituencies, both here at home and abroad. And we will see whether the president is able, in his messaging over the next several weeks, to persuade all of those different groups of a message that, at times, is contradictory. And a great risk of faces is when you try to woo two different groups, sometimes you can please both, but sometimes you simply irritate both.

SCHMEMANN: Thank you. Next question, please?

OPERATOR: As a reminder, to ask a question, it is star one on your touch-tone phone now. And we have or a comment from Jim -- (Inaudible) -- from Inter Press Service.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I had a question that relates to page 13, the question about listen to allies but go our own way. And specifically the first graph, which is since the U.S. is the most powerful nation in the world, we should go our own way in international matters, not worry that much about whether other countries agree with us or not.

Well, that's a very unilateralist position. And I'm wondering how that squares with your previous observations about how badly foreign policy has worked out in the past eight years. And then what lessons are to be drawn from that.

Is what the public is saying that they -- does it reflect, essentially, the idea that the world has become quite hostile due to the bad economy and so on and the other reasons that you cited? Or is there some vindication of the Bush policy in this statistic?

KOHUT: Well, I think, first to respond to the question, this question was written in 1964. I didn't write it, and it does -- to put up a premise, but there's a whole range of items in this series, some on the unilateralist side, some on the internationalist side.

So there's -- by looking at the total mix of questions, you get a balance of -- you get a view of the balance of opinion. And the -- I don't think that you can take away from a spike in isolationism some vindication of President Bush's policies. If anything, you could be drawn to the view that, if anything, it's a response to disappointment with American foreign policy over the years.

In fact, the interesting thing is one of the most significant increases in the percent who agree we should go our own way and international affairs came from Republicans themselves. But substantial numbers of Democrats also share that view -- one of the few cases where Republicans and Democrats seem to be on the same page in the survey.

LINDSAY: And one thing I would add to what Andy had to say is that the public, like elites, is capable of sending mixed messages. And the public, looking at this poll and other polls, clearly appreciates the fact that President Obama's diplomatic efforts have changed much of the global discussion of the United States. You can see it in the particular question here in the Pew/CFR Poll where it talks about the percentage of people who see the United States as being less respected in the world having gone down.

I think a related thing to keep in mind in looking at this is that it's possible not to be happy with President Bush's foreign policy but also not to be happy or not to be persuaded by President Obama's foreign policy. And I think a mistake that could be made is to assume that when the public voted for President Obama, that they were endorsing a particular brand of multilateralism that the Obama White House would carry out.

And as the public sort of thinks about how much sense it makes to work with others, it clearly pays attention to or knows something about the success of the current administration's policy even if they can't specify the details of those policies. And, clearly, President Obama campaigned on a pledge to use energetic diplomacy to restore American leadership.

But so far, his multilateral efforts haven't produced the kinds of breakout successes that people had anticipated. You know, Iran and North Korea refuse to halt their nuclear programs. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process remains frozen. Our image in Europe is better, but it doesn't seen that the Europeans are much more inclined to want to help us on a lot of the key issues.

So in some sense, this poll can actually -- this gives you some sense of the public's frustration and concern about being entrapped by multilateralism.

KOHUT: You know, there's one thing I wanted to -- I agree with that, Jim. And there's one thing I want to add to this. And that is that, for Obama, there's a bit of a double bind with regard to assertiveness, whether it has to do with Afghanistan or, perhaps, some future place.

In Afghanistan, the Democratic -- his own base, the Democrats are less supportive of the idea of using force there and having troops there. And his opponents are critical of his -- of the way he's carrying out the mission.

And that can play out in any number of future scenarios as well because there's such a big gap between the way Republicans and Democrats view the use of force and view an assertive national foreign policy. So it's going it be -- it's likely to be a difficult challenge for Obama, who kind of gets -- not kind of -- does get it both ways.

SCHMEMANN: I apologize for some static on the line. If our speakers could just make sure they move their Blackberries or any other mobile devices away from the phone, that would be helpful.

Joe, we'll take another question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Virginie Monte from Agence France Press.

QUESTIONER: Yes, good morning. Thank you for taking my call.

Can you elaborate on the improvement of the image of France?

KOHUT: (Chuckles.) Yeah. It's rather --

QUESTIONER: I'm very interested. (Chuckles.)

KOHUT: Do you want to talk, Jim? Go ahead.


KOHUT: Jim, do you want to address --

LINDSAY: No, no. I'll let you address it, Andy.

KOHUT: It's rather dramatic. I mean, we've -- we've -- back in 2003 when France was so critical of the United States in the decision to go to war in Iraq, just 29 percent had a favorable view of France. And over the years, Americans have come to forget that. It went to 46 percent by 2005, 48 percent by 2007, and now it's up to 62 percent.

So I think that Americans -- many Americans have forgotten the French differences with American -- with a basic American policy. And maybe some of them have come to have a greater appreciation from the French point of view back then.

LINDSAY: I would just add two other things. One is that I think the very unfavorable views Americans had of France were, in some sense, artificial -- a product of the very visible spat over Iraq. And so there's a tendency, I think, to go back over time to equilibrium.

And the second thing would be I think on the margins, it's clear that we now have, in France, a president who is much more favorable toward the United States, and I think some sense of President Sarkozy's -- I don't want to call it "pro-Americanism" -- but willingness to work with the United States has filtered more broadly in the United States.

KOHUT: I would just add one thing to that, Jim. And that is President Obama's favorable rating is higher in France than any other country in Western Europe according to the Pew Global Attitudes Poll. So there's a footnote to this measure.


QUESTIONER: Thank you.

SCHMEMANN: Thank you. Next question?

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Mitch Potter from Toronto Star Newspaper.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much.

I guess it's probably fair to say that a great many Canadians are chronically concerned, perhaps even paranoid, about the idea of an America that turns inward, not least because the Canada-U.S. trade relationship is the largest in the world and so much of Canada's economic and political life orbits around what America does.

So I'm wondering if you could sort of metaphorically put on the touk or the Mountie hat or the hockey stick in your hands -- pick your Canadian cliche and interpret the data from a Canadian point of view. What would Canadians or should they -- how should they interpret this data?

SCHMEMANN: Yeah, Andy, if you could speak to Canada and also the free trade agreements, more broadly.

KOHUT: Yeah. One of the most amazing things in our surveys -- and they were not only here, we've also seen them in Gallup; they were so surprising we had to make sure that there was other polls showing the same thing -- and that is between 2008 and 2009, support for free trade actually went one. For example, in 2008, only 35 percent of Americans said that free trade was a good thing, down from 40 percent the year before. In 2009, it went up to 44 (percent) and 43 percent.

So while the public is not head over heels in love with the idea of free -- the American public is not head over heels in love with the idea of free trade, it really isn't as -- it really isn't as dramatically bad as you might have expected given the economy.

I think when you mention the notion of trade to Americans, they think about all business being good business. And to some extent, that has settled them down a bit about the notion of -- their concerns about free trade.

LINDSAY: Mitch asked a great question, and as someone who grew up in the northeastern part of the United States, I like hockey and don't see it as a stereotype. But I think in looking at the poll from a Canadian point of view, a couple of things to point out.

One, Canada is the country that Americans hold in the highest esteem. I think the number, if I recall, Andy, was in the 80's in terms of country favorability rating.

KOHUT: 84.

LINDSAY: Okay. So there's not any pent-up American animosity toward Canada. I think Andy was quite right to point out that the numbers show favorability toward trade or views of free trade have actually gone up rather than down during the recent economic crisis.

And that may seem counterintuitive, but when you think about it, it's less so. One of the things that happens when the economy turns downward is that people who work in industries that depend upon selling goods abroad become very sensitive to the fact that their jobs are tied to their ability to sell goods overseas in a way they aren't necessarily paying taking to in good economic times.

And people begin it realize that, if foreign markets dry up, they stand to lose jobs. So in some ways, bad economic times can make the case for free trade.

I would also say that, you know, from a Canadian point of view that's often talked about, NAFTA in the United States -- and I know whenever -- certainly during the 2008 campaign when American politicians spoke about NAFTA, people in Canada tended to shudder. But that's because when Americans talk about NAFTA, or when Canadians talk about NAFTA, they think about Northern America; their trade relationship with the United States.

Most of the public discussion about NAFTA in the United States is really NAFTA as a proxy for some sort of vague, ill-defined, ill-at-ease with trade and its ability to take jobs. And if you were to, I think, do a sort of man-on-the street, woman-on-the-street interview, you wouldn't find people equating NAFTA will cars coming from Ontario across the bridge into Detroit.

I do think that, on trade issues -- and you see some of this in this poll and elsewhere -- that for the American public, trade issues are going to get caught up with the relationship with China because of China's importance as a trade partner and also China's importance as a lender to the United States.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thanks. We'll take another question.

OPERATOR: Just a reminder, to ask a question, that's star one on your touch-tone phone now. And we are currently waiting for questions.

SCHMEMANN: While we wait just one minute, if I could ask you just to keep out some of the findings on Pakistan. I thought it was interesting in the conversation about France, while France's imminence has recovered, favorable ratings of Pakistan have plummeted, it looks like.

As the Obama administration rolled out its new Afghanistan strategy, what are we to make of these Pakistan findings?

KOHUT: Well, certainly, Pakistan is increasingly seen by CFR members and opinion leaders, I would suspect even more generally, as a major threat to the United States. The condition of the issues there and the instability there and for the public, the public has begun to hear more about Pakistan as a threat and as a problem. And, therefore, you're getting a more negative reaction.

It still hasn't risen to the level of Iran and North Korea, but there's some pretty considerably concern there.

LINDSAY: Yeah. I would just say that Andy has it exactly right. I mean, if you are an American and just paying attention to what's on the television talking about the news, much of the news coming out of Pakistan is negative. And so not surprisingly, the public's view of Pakistan -- which, again, to begin with wasn't high -- 10 percent favorability -- has fallen.

SCHMEMANN: Okay. Thanks. Do we have any remaining questions?

OPERATOR: There are no questions at this time.

SCHMEMANN: With that, I'll ask Andrew Kohut and James Lindsay if they have any summarizing comments. This is a complex and really rich poll with very interesting data. But if you want to give us what you think our takeaway should be that would be helpful.


KOHUT: Well, again, my takeaway at the end is where I began. I think that this survey shows both public and an opinion leadership group apprehensive and uncertain about America's place in the world. And given the variety of economic and geopolitical challenges to the United States, I guess that's not unreasonable.


LINDSAY: I will just conclude where I began which is, once again, complementing Andy on, again, doing a fine piece of work. And I really encourage people to go through the details of the survey results because we can't capture all of the really fascinating details in this call.

I would say, for me, the headline is that looking at these polls, that Barack Obama is clearly navigating choppy political waters on foreign policy. The public is leery about foreign engagement. It is not persuaded that multilateralism is going to deliver at the end of the day. And it's worried that the president is too accommodating. That doesn't mean the president can't succeed in his foreign policy agenda; it means that his political skills are going to be sharply tested in the months to come.

SCHMEMANN: Thank you. Again, the report is available at the Web site of the Pew Research Center at with accompanying commentary on the Council of Foreign Relations Web site,

Many thanks to Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center and James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations. If you have additional questions, feel free to be in touch by e-mail.

Thank you all.

LINDSAY: Thank you.

KOHUT: Thank you, Anya.








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