According to a new Rasmussen poll, only a narrow sliver of US voters -- 11 percent -- want America to be the nation chiefly responsible for policing the planet and trying to maintain international order. An overwhelming 74 percent reject the idea.
These aren't anomalous results. When Rasmussen polled the same question in 2009, the results were virtually identical. Gallup regularly asks how large a role -- leading, major, minor, or none -- the United States should take in solving international problems; only a small minority of respondents ever favors the "leading" role.
America may be the world's "indispensable nation," as Bill Clinton said in his Second Inaugural Address, but most Americans, most of the time, are uncomfortable with the idea of US global hegemony. John Quincy Adamswrote long ago that America "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy." As the polls consistently suggest, that isolationist sentiment still resonates strongly.
But in Adams's day America was not the mightiest, wealthiest, and most influential nation on the face of the earth. Today it is. The United States is the world's only superpower, and if we shirk the role of global policeman, no one else will fill it. By nature Americans are not warmongering empire-builders; their uneasiness about dominating other countries reflects a national modesty that in many ways is admirable -- and that belies the caricature of Uncle Sam as arrogant bully or "great Satan."
Nevertheless, with great power come great responsibilities, and sometimes one of those responsibilities is to destroy monsters: to take down tyrants who victimize the innocent and flout the rules of civilization. If neighborhoods and cities need policing, it stands to reason the world does too. And just as local criminals thrive when cops look the other way, so do criminals on the world stage.
Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com. href="http://www.townhall.com/Secure/Signup.aspx">Sign up today
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