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Exporting democracy not a public priority


A common trope of the Syria debate has been that following the experience of the Bush administration, Americans are in a more realist mood – willing to support military action only when U.S. national security is directly threatened.

But as a chart from the Pew Research Center indicates, unlike some of their leaders, Americans weren’t all that interested in democracy promotion during the Bush administration either.

In fact, they’ve gotten slightly more supportive of the goal under Obama’s presidency, though presumably not of using military force to accomplish it.

Americans are even more opposed (72 percent against) when asked specifically whether the United States should “try to change a dictatorship to a democracy where it can.”

Democracy promotion is evidently something that Americans only like in the abstract, and even then not that much.

Surprisingly to me, “working with organizations like the United Nations to bring about world cooperation” also gets relatively strong support in the Pew poll, with 58 percent calling it very important and 22 percent somewhat important.

A question for the weeks ahead is whether this multilateralist mood will trump Americans’ strong distrust of Russia and its president.

Joshua Keating, previously an editor at Foreign Policy, is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics.