Shaken by the Iraq war and the rise of anti-American sentiment around the world, Americans are turning inward, according to a Pew survey of U.S. opinion leaders and the general public.
The survey, conducted this autumn and released Thursday, found a revival of isolationist feelings among the public similar to the sentiment that followed the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.
At the same time, the survey showed, Americans are feeling less unilateralist than in the past, in what appeared to indicate a desire for a more modest foreign policy.
Forty-two percent of Americans think the United States should ''mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own,'' according to the survey, which was conducted by the Pew Research Center in association with the Council on Foreign Relations.
That is an increase of 40 percent since a poll taken in December 2002, before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq; at that time only 30 percent of Americans said the country should mind its own business internationally.
The result appeared to represent a rejection by the public of President George W. Bush's goal of promoting democracy in other nations, a major focus of his administration's foreign policy.
"We're seeing a backlash against a bumbled foreign policy," said Stephen Van Evera, political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said Americans were concerned over failures to make progress on North Korea and Iran, and in the fight against Al Qaeda, but he added, "The American people in particular are looking at Iraq and seeing nothing's working."
In its analysis of the poll, Pew said that the war in Iraq ''has had a profound impact on the way opinion leaders, as well as the public, view America's global role, looming international threats and the Bush administration's stewardship of the nation's foreign policy.''
The survey also found the following:
Nearly three-quarters of Americans say the United States should play a shared leadership role, and only 25 percent want the country to be the most active of leading nations.
Two-thirds of Americans say there is less international respect for the United States than in the past. When asked why, strong majorities - 71 percent of the public, 88 percent of opinion leaders - cite the war in Iraq.
Foreign affairs and security experts most often name India as a country likely to become a more important U.S. ally, while opinion leaders generally say France will decline in importance as a partner of the United States.
In the survey, Pew questioned 2,006 American adults from the general public and 520 influential Americans in the fields of news media, foreign affairs, security, state and local government, universities and research organizations, religious organizations, science and engineering, and the military.
Conducted from Sept. 5 to Oct. 31, the survey ''reflects the major changes in the world that have occurred'' since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Pew said. The margin of error for most questions was plus or minus 2.5 percent.
In its analysis of the results, Pew said the Iraq war and continuing terrorism had ''dramatically affected the way opinion leaders and the public look at potential threats from other countries.''
While China was seen four years ago as the greatest threat, opinion leaders and the public now cite Iraq and North Korea as well as China, Pew said.
Regarding prospects for Iraq, a majority of opinion leaders say that the United States will fail to establish a stable democracy, while the general public was more optimistic, with 56 percent expecting success. Gloom was so deep, in fact, among the opinion leaders that at least 40 percent in each category predict that Iraq will split into three countries, Pew said.
On relations with Europe, the American public and opinion leaders agree that a strong partnership should be maintained, the survey found. At least 60 percent of each group of opinion leaders said a stronger European Union was good for the United States. In addition to France, however, some of the influentials pointed to Germany - which also opposed the Iraq war - as becoming a less important ally.
The public lined up with opinion leaders in disapproving of the way Bush is handling his job as president. Fifty-two percent of the public expressed disapproval; the figure soared to 87 percent among scientists and engineers.
Moreover, the poll found, ''Pluralities in every group of influentials - as well as the public - attribute the fact that there has not been a terrorist attack in the U.S. to luck.'' Just a third say it is ''because the government has done a good job protecting the country.''
International Herald Tribune
Brian Knowlton contributed reporting from Washington.
Full poll results and analysis are available at www.people-press.org.