A newly attentive American public will pay closer attention to foreign policy during the next presidential election cycle than it did in the last one, and will be less likely now to give a pass to politicians who want to withdraw within U.S. borders.
Anything is possible, but Mead has absolutely no evidence to support this speculation. Will the public pay more attention to foreign policy in 2016 than it did in 2012? Perhaps, but it seems very unlikely. Since the public paid remarkably little attention to foreign policy in the last election, it isn’t a difficult standard to surpass, but I’m still skeptical that there will be a significant increase in interest between now and then. The 2004 and 2008 elections were very unusual in the post-Cold War era for the attention paid to foreign policy issues, and that was due almost entirely to the “war on terror” and the Iraq war. The lack of interest in 2012 reflected an understandable aversion to the subject after a decade of war, but it also represented a return to the way things worked in the three presidential elections between the collapse of the USSR and 9/11. Barring an attack on the U.S. or another prolonged war, it is doubtful that there will be much interest in foreign policy. If there is some interest, it is probably going to be in finding candidates that eschew an increasingly activist role abroad.
Favoring a relatively more activist foreign policy now appears to be a political liability for Congressional candidates. Does that extend to presidential candidates? We can’t know for sure, but in the last two elections the candidate perceived to be relatively less hawkish happened to prevail. It is not hard to imagine that this is what the public will be looking for from presidential nominees in the next election as well. That won’t be what wins the 2016 election, but it could give the less hawkish candidate a better chance. From Syria to Ukraine, the public has expressed its preference for as little involvement in foreign crises and conflicts as possible. Hawks take for granted that this a passing fad, which they like to minimize by referring to “war weariness” or “Iraq syndrome,” but it is easy to see why most Americans since the crash and recession would be much more concerned with the state of affairs here at home to the exclusion of other things.