Americans skeptical of U.S. efforts abroad

NEW YORK (AP) – Americans question the ability of the United States to create democracy in other countries, and are divided on whether successful efforts could even make the U.S. safer, according to a poll released Thursday.

Only 36 percent of those surveyed by the Public Agenda Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index believe the U.S. can help spread democracy _ a major objective for the Bush administration in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

“People do regard it as a desirable goal,” Public Agenda Chairman Daniel Yankelovich said. “But from a common sense point of view, both Democrats and Republicans have concluded that democracy is something that countries come to on their own.”

The Iraq war remains the top concern, with 22 percent naming it America’s largest global problem, followed by terrorism at 13 percent.

But poll directors noted Americans are also alarmed increasingly by U.S. energy dependence. Ninety percent in the survey _ conducted in January, before President Bush’s declaration in his State of the Union address that the country is “addicted to oil” _ said it was important to find alternatives to foreign energy supplies to strengthen national security.

The survey, a joint venture by Foreign Affairs magazine and Public Agenda, a nonprofit research organization, offered multiple perspectives on how America sees its role in the world. The goal of spreading democracy received the lowest support among other priorities, with only 20 percent saying it was “very important.”

Only 22 percent believe the U.S. government can do “a lot” to create democracy in Iraq.

On other fronts, the poll indicated a preference for activism. Seventy-one percent said it was very important to help countries deal with natural disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami. Other priorities were cooperating with countries on problems like the environment or disease control (70 percent) and improving the treatment of women in other countries (57 percent).

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted Jan. 10-22 and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

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