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Politics / CAMPAIGN 2012

Poll: Americans Weary of Foreign Entanglements

On eve of national security debate, poll shows most Americans want troops home.

A Special Forces Soldier assigned to Special Operations Task Force - South sets up his security position during a patrol Feb. 25, 2011, in Panjwai district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The SOTF - South Special Forces team in the area conducts regular patrols in order to bolster security as well as to mee Photo Credit: Sgt. Ben Watson(Sgt. Ben Watson/U.S. Army)

photo of Kathy Kiely
November 11, 2011

On the eve of a Republican presidential debate on foreign policy and national security sponsored by National Journal and CBS News, a new poll finds Americans weary of long military engagements overseas and uncertain about their benefits.

Key findings of a CBS News Poll released Friday evening:

  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was rated the most qualified to be commander-in-chief by 26 percent, followed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with 21 percent, and former businessman Herman Cain, with 11 percent. Jon Huntsman, a Mandarin Chinese speaker who served a year as President Obama’s ambassador to Beijing and who has made his foreign policy expertise a calling card, lagged the field with 2 percent of the vote – behind even Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose calls for an end to all overseas engagements by the U.S. military runs counter the more hawkish views of many rivals.
  • Gingrich is most trusted to handle an international crisis (31 percent), followed by Romney (19 percent) and Cain (8 percent).
  • Though Obama’s approval ratings remain an anemic 43 percent, those responding to the poll generally approved of many of his major foreign policy decisions. A majority (58 percent) favor withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, and 77 percent – including 63 percent of all Republicans -- approve of the plan to withdraw troops from Iraq by year’s end – a decision for which many of Obama’s would-be Republican rivals have lambasted him. Asked if the Iraq war was worth the costs, 67 percent said no.
  • Obama also got a thumbs-up for the controversial targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was a senior member of al-Qaeda. A majority of 53 percent approved of authorizing the killing of an American known to be a terrorist, and Republicans were more supportive (63 percent) than Democrats (52 percent).
  • Less popular are the president’s efforts to close the prison at Guatanamo Bay where many suspected terrorists have been confined: 52 percent said it should remain open, compared to 33 percent who favor closing it. Most also disapproved of the administration’s decision to provide limited support to Libyan rebels who ousted dictator Moammar el-Qaddafi: 49 percent said the U.S. should have stayed out of Libya; 33 percent said the administration did “the right thing.”
  • A wide majority – 70 percent – said the U.S. should not try to oust dictators in the interest of spreading democracy.
  • A number of Republican presidential candidates have tried to portray Obama as hostile to Israel, a nation that three in four Americans consider friendly or an ally, the poll found. Even so, 31 percent said the U.S. provides too much aid to the Jewish state. Asked about the creation of a Palestinian state – a policy the Obama administration supports – 42 percent favored one, compared to 34 percent who were opposed. Republicans lean against the creation of a Palestinian state, 48 percent to 33 percent.
  • On China, 51 percent said they consider the Asian economic giant either friendly or an ally, compared to 32 percent who described it as unfriendly or an enemy. But 61 percent said China’s economic expansion in the United States is “generally bad.” And 63 percent of those responding to the poll called Pakistan “unfriendly” or “an enemy” to the United States.

The CBS poll of 1,182 adults nationwide was conducted from November 6-10.

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