Greg Scoblete noticed a Brookings Institute survey of the foreign policy views of 1,000 Millennial leaders (defined as people who “already have the “Washington bug” and have set themselves towards a career in politics and policy.”) He cited this section from their report:
Isolationism, not globalism, is winning out. Fifty-eight percent of the young leaders think that America is “too involved” in global affairs and should instead focus more on issues at home. This level of isolationism, forged by growing up in the time of 9/11, Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, doubled the number recently seen in adult survey results. Indeed, contrary to the idea of young, globally minded Obamacrats vs. inward-looking Tea Partiers, young Democrats are actually more likely to hold isolationist attitudes than young Republicans.
I’m not sure how much significance to attach to a result that shows a majority of Millennial leaders thinks America is “too involved.” They might still be quite internationalist in their views and still reach that conclusion. The extent of U.S. involvement abroad has been increasing for their entire lives, and they could easily see involvement at this level as being excessive and unsustainable. Since members of this generation started to be born, the U.S. has launched at least seven significant military interventions or peacekeeping operations not including the new war in Libya (which hadn’t happened yet when this survey was taken). By comparison with any other period in U.S. history, this frequency of military intervention overseas is very unusual, and it would be bizarre if the generation that has grown up with all of this wouldn’t be a little weary of it by now. It is probable that some of them dislike elements of the bipartisan consensus in favor of economic neoliberalism, so the “experience of globalization” may not automatically incline them to favor neoliberal policies.
For the Brookings analysts to define this “too involved” response as “isolationist” is just another example why “isolationist” should probably just be abandoned as a term in foreign policy debates. The contrast between “globally-minded Obamacrats” and “inward-looking Tea Partiers” is ridiculous for many reasons. This reproduces the conceit that interventionists are very well-informed about the world and cosmopolitan in outlook, and that only “inward-looking” people could possibly be skeptical about the importance and necessity of extensive American involvement abroad. It is normal and unremarkable for people who identify as Democrats to prefer to pay more attention to domestic problems. Notice how the statement is phrased: “The U.S. is too involved in global affairs and should focus on more issues at home.” This is a fairly common refrain on the left.
Believing domestic issues should receive more attention and resources than they do right now is hardly incompatible with being “globally-minded,” and it is odd that people at Brookings would want to make them seem incompatible. Nor does it follow that one is “inward-looking” if one wants to devote more resources to domestic problems. Anyone who gives serious thought to America’s economic competition around the world will recognize that the U.S. is missing many opportunities by devoting so many resources and so much time and political capital to conflicts that need to be coming to an end and conflicts that should never have started in the first place.
What puzzles me is what the other 42.4% could be thinking. After seeing the consequences of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, almost ten years of war in Afghanistan, and the perpetual “war on terror,” four out of ten “young leaders” believe that the U.S. has struck the right balance or has actually neglected international issues. I would like to assume that they haven’t been paying attention, but they were chosen for this survey because they do pay attention.