WASHINGTON, Dec 3, 2009 (AFP) - President Barack Obama may have sought to sell his revamped Afghanistan war strategy to a skeptical US public, but a poll showed Thursday that he faces a tough task amid a growing isolationist surge.
For the first time since the Pew Research Center began conducting the survey 45 years ago, more participants (49 percent) agreed that the United States should "mind its own business internationally" and let other countries manage on their own than those who disagreed (44 percent).
A majority of the public disapproved of Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan, with 49 percent of the public giving the president low marks and 36 percent approving of his performance.
Obama has ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing the US contingent to 100,000 by the mid-2010 amid an intensifying Taliban insurgency.
But with an Afghan government dogged by fraud-marred August elections and charges of corruption, 46 percent of respondents said it was very or somewhat likely that Afghanistan would become stable enough to withstand the threat from the Taliban and other violent extremist groups.
Only 32 percent of those surveyed in late October and early November supported sending more troops to Afghanistan. Most - 40 percent - said the troop presence should be decreased, while 19 percent said the level of military forces should be kept the same.
The president nonetheless had a favorable job approval rating, with 51 support for his overall performance, but Obama's numbers have dropped since he took office in January.
Only one percent listed Pakistan, which Obama has placed at the forefront of his battle against violent extremists, as the top international problem for the United States, while 49 percent said instability in Pakistan was a major threat.
But 70 percent said the Taliban's growing strength was a major danger.
North Korea's nuclear program was seen as more of a major threat - by 69 percent of respondents - than China's emerging power, at 53 percent.
In a reversal from polling early last year, 44 percent said China is now the world's top economic power and only 27 percent cited the United States. In February 2008, 41 percent had mentioned the United States and 30 percent pointed to China.
According to the survey, 41 percent of the public said the United States now plays a less important role as world leader than 10 years ago, the highest such figures since Pew first conducted its survey in 1964.
As concerns Iran, 63 percent approved of the use of US military force against Tehran if the suspicions that it is developing nuclear weapons are confirmed.
Another 51 percent backed using US military force in Pakistan if extremists were on the verge of taking over the already fragile, nuclear armed state.
Among the other countries examined, France was making a comeback, with 62 percent expressing a favorable opinion, up from 29 percent in May 2003 when relations frayed over French opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The main telephone survey, which polled 2,000 adults October 28-November 8, had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The findings were also supplemented by a subsequent poll of 1,003 people November 12-15 with a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Two other polls conducted May 27-June 10 and September 10-15 established various countries' favorability ratings, with the same sampling error.