Inside the numbers: America abroad

Posted: Feb 22, 2005 12:00 AM

Who runs the planet Earth? Is it the United Nations or the White House? A particular somebody or something, or no one at all?
I believe I know who the Big Boss is, and not because I am the possessor of occult insight. I'm intimately aware of who the leader of the world is because our InsiderAdvantage polls speak with them on a regular basis. That most powerful entity is you, the American people. And saying so isn't just patriotic blather. It's a profound truth that's known by world leaders, good and evil alike.

 In a recent poll, we asked:

 Do you think the situation in Iraq is improving?

Yes   45 percent
No   49 percent
Don't know    6 percent

 The survey was conducted earlier this month among 600 Americans. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

 Polling questions like this seem old hat. The percentages move a little this way and a little back the other. What endures so far is the rough balance between those who approve and disapprove of what's going on in Iraq.

 From an international perspective, this polling question will continue to be the most important one of all. If at least 40 percent of Americans continue to check off on the war, President Bush and his Pentagon team likely will be able to stay the course for the time it takes to more or less stabilize Iraq. But if public support ever drops below 40 percent, the Bush war could be in serious trouble.

 Right now, both military and diplomatic events look comparatively good for the president. Most major developments since his re-election seem to have borne out the iron-fisted resolve he has demonstrated overseas.

 The Iraqi elections went off surprisingly well. They exposed the insurgents politically and further isolated them militarily. Much trouble remains, but media is shouting less that, "Things are out of control in Iraq."

 As President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travel overseas, the Bush Doctrine they continue to articulate is starting to make more and more sense. The people of Lebanon are now openly protesting the occupation of their country by Syria. Does anyone doubt their new boldness is an offshoot of the fledgling democratic movement in Iraq? Likewise, the mullahs of Iran continue to squirm as the heat turns up on them to grant new political freedoms to their people. And the Israeli government and the Palestinian authorities are seriously talking peace again for their perpetually troubled peoples. There is a region-wide wave of hope washing across the Middle East as there hasn't been in a long while.

 The president and secretary of state are making these points on whirlwind diplomatic tours. And while some of the prickly leaders and populations of Western Europe will continue to chaff at what they consider to be Bush's bullying style, they are also showing signs of bowing to American leadership.

 And why shouldn't they? Just as this column pointed out over two years ago, they really don't have much choice. The statist economies of France and Germany keep growing at rates roughly half that of America's. To maintain their politically coddled government social safety nets, these European countries must at minimum step aside while America does what it must. Their economies are dead in the water if America's doesn't keep growing. And the U.S. economy won't continue to prosper if dictatorships and terrorist across the globe continue to threaten world peace and American lives here at home.

 Yes, the Jacques Chiracs and the Helmut Schmidts of the world moan about the U.S. trade account and budget deficits. They also decry American military action. What do they have to lose, when it's the United States that pays for these actions with mostly its own money and blood?

 These high-level protests are predominantly political attacks for domestic consumption. And they work for that purpose. But the American and European elections are over for now, and guess who has spoken louder than anyone else? Again, the American people.

 The U.S. population is, in fact, so powerful a world leader that it can continue its dominance of global events even as it displays comparative indifference to the operational details of complex matters.

 Most Americans pay scant attention to the day-to-day happenings in Iraq. For President Bush, and for the future of democracy around the globe, that could actually be a plus. If the setbacks in Iraq continue to be relatively minor (as opposed to hundreds of Americans soldiers dying in one catastrophic attack), then the good guys may be able to continue to work their democratizing magic for some time.

 However, if greater military or diplomatic reverses are in the cards, the sleeping giant that is America's man and woman on the street may wake up and say, "Enough." Rest assured that world leaders, friends and foes alike, are watching our polls and holding their breath.

 Thankfully, the American people continue to show great wisdom and mature judgment in these weighty matters, in spite of all the shooting and shouting. 

 The world thanks you. Or should.