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US sours on global role, looks to Asia: poll

WASHINGTON--Eleven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a record number in the United States want a less active global role — and Americans for the first time see Asia as more important than Europe.

The poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs found strong differences by age range, with younger Americans the most comfortable with the Islamic world and China and the least enthusiastic about the use of U.S. force abroad.

The poll, released on the eve of the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, said 67 percent of Americans did not consider the Iraq war worth fighting and only 30 percent said that the Afghanistan intervention made the United States safer.

Sixty-one percent of Americans said that the United States should take an active role in world affairs, but the 38 percent who disagreed marked the highest level taken by the Chicago Council or comparable polls since 1947.

Nonetheless, 70 percent of Americans described their country as the greatest in the world.

“There's a strong sense of specialness that Americans have and this is across generational and partisan lines,” said Marshall Bouton, president of the Chicago Council.

The dwindling support for foreign wars is “not a discouragement about the character of their nation. It's an assessment in their minds that ... the United States has got to trim its sails in certain respects,” he said.

The study showed public backing for diplomacy and aid, particularly to Africa, and support for cutting military spending.

Age groups differed on key issues. Only 23 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 years old said Islamic fundamentalism would pose a critical threat over the next 10 years, far down from the 50 percent over age 60 who said so.

“Young people in general see the world in a less threatening fashion,” Bouton said.

With China clocking strong growth over the past decade, the survey found that 52 percent of Americans considered Asia to be more important than Europe — the first time a majority has said so.

Despite sometimes sharp criticism of China by U.S. politicians, the survey did not find fear of the Asian power, with just 28 percent saying that the United States should work to limit the country's rise.

In one major swing, 70 percent of Americans said that China was more important to U.S. interests than Japan, with only 27 percent saying the same about Tokyo — a longstanding U.S. ally. Americans were evenly split on the question in 2002.

The non-partisan poll was released in the midst of the U.S. presidential campaign, in which President Barack Obama's conservative opponents criticize him for “leading from behind” in hotspots such as Libya, where European powers played a large role in toppling strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

The poll did not use the term “leading from behind,” but a mere seven percent said that the United States should have played “the leading role” in Libya.

On the bloodshed in Syria, majorities of Americans supported economic pressure on President Bashar al-Assad or enforcement of a no-fly zone, but only 22 percent backed bombing the regime's air defenses.

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