Polls show that most Americans want the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan. Barack Obama has announced that the bulk of U.S. forces will withdraw from Afghanistan during his term in office, with only small numbers -- less than military leaders recommended -- remaining, provided the new Afghan government approves.
The most recent Pew Research Center poll conducted for the Council on Foreign Relations shows that 52 percent of Americans -- the highest percentage in the last 40 years -- think the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along as best they can on their own. Evidently they don't want to see America being, in the old phrase, the policeman of the world.
Barack Obama seems to be following the polls, yet more and more voters express disapproval of his foreign policy -- 50 percent in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, with only 41 percent approving, a new low in that survey.
This is a reversal of the public response during Obama's first term. Then his job approval on foreign policy was usually higher than his job approval generally.
So what gives? Obama has seemingly given the public what it wants -- including the death of Osama bin Laden. And yet the public is dissatisfied.
Which is an illustration of how public opinion polls can be misleading guides for public officials. Poll respondents tell interviewers (or recorded voices on the phone) what they would like at that moment.
Often on foreign policy that means just being left alone. But history tells us something else about Americans' attitudes.
They have understood, no matter how little they want to be bothered or to see their fellow citizens suffer casualties, that Americans have a stake in what goes on beyond our borders and across the seas.
This has been true from the early days of the republic. Thomas Jefferson sent the Navy and Marines to subdue the Barbary pirates in "the shores of Tripoli." American traders began sailing to China in the early 1800s, and the U.S. Navy had ships on the Yangtze River for nearly 100 years until they were expelled by Japan in the 1930s.