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U.S. Foreign Policy and Public Opinion

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently released its annual survey [1] of American attitudes on various foreign policy issues. Like previous surveys, the latest one finds broad public support for U.S. international engagement. Some of that comes from the framing of the questions that respondents were asked. For instance, one of the questions asked, “Do you think it will be best for the future of the country if we take an active part in world affairs or if we stay out of world affairs?” Given that choice, the remarkable thing is that support for an “active part” isn’t higher than the overall 63% that they found.

No one thinks it is possible for us to “stay out” of world affairs all together, and no one really argues that it is desirable to try doing this, so it is extraordinary that not quite two-thirds of the respondents prefer the U.S. to take an “active part.” Of course, what taking an “active part” in the world means varies widely depending on who decides the definition of “action.” It might imply incessant meddling in the affairs of other countries short of military intervention, it could mean endless war in half a dozen countries or more, or it could mean intensive diplomatic and commercial engagement without any of the rest of it. One person’s idea of taking an “active part” would be derided as some form of “isolationism” by a more interventionist type, and the former would probably consider the interventionist’s version of international engagement to be little better than mindless interference for its own sake.

There was one other result that stood out from the rest that I wanted to mention. When respondents were asked which kind of U.S. role in the world they preferred, it was “core Trump supporters” that most strongly preferred that the U.S. be the world’s sole dominant leader (53%). When these voters respond favorably to Trump’s talk about “America first,” they aren’t thinking of disengagement or neutrality or even staying out of foreign wars. I suspect they are hearing Trump affirming the view that the U.S. should be on top, and I would also guess that this is what Trump thinks the phrase means. In other words, they aren’t just comfortable with U.S. hegemony, but are also among the least likely to welcome its end. They are similar to Republicans overall (47%), but are even more supportive of a dominant U.S. “leadership” role than the average Republican. Not surprisingly, then, “core Trump supporters” are also the least likely (42%) to favor a “shared leadership role,” which implies that they are least likely to prefer burden-sharing in practice. Most of them are nationalists that strongly favor U.S. hegemony, so they may be among the least likely of all to favor a real “America first” foreign policy.

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15 Comments To "U.S. Foreign Policy and Public Opinion"

#1 Comment By Global Hitler Census 2017 On October 3, 2017 @ 9:24 am

““Do you think it will be best for the future of the country if we take an active part in world affairs or if we stay out of world affairs?” Given that choice, the remarkable thing is that support for an “active part” isn’t higher than the overall 63% that they found. “

Yes. We’ve seen this sort of survey question before, haven’t we?

“Do you support an active role for the US in world affairs or do you support shirking our moral responsibilities and ceding world leadership to barbaric states led by monsters comparable to Hitler?”

Active role: 63 percent
Cede to monsters: 27 percent
Unsure: 10 percent

#2 Comment By SteveM On October 3, 2017 @ 9:59 am

Re: “Like previous surveys, the latest one finds broad public support for U.S. international engagement.”

Daniel, what significantly warps public opinion is that it is highly correlated with the massive Elite generated propaganda that the public is fed.

The DC Elites conjure up exaggerated threats (fear-mongering) and disseminate the propaganda using the corrupt and compliant MSM as the conduit.

In parallel, the Pentagon/Political/Corporate/MSM machinery of military sanctification makes it impossible to challenge the normative vision of U.S. power projection by the War Machine as anything but useful and benign. (“Warrior-Heroes defending our freedom”) I.e., the war-monger response to the exaggerated fear-mongered threats.

Stalin would be proud.

Unfortunately, TAC and related venues are tiny islands of rational thought in a huge, cronied-up Neocon ocean that saturates the media environment with an over-aching theme of perpetual and unchallenged U.S. hegemony. That is the message that strongly shapes public opinion.

Parenthetically, this last Sunday I inadvertently attended the annual Red Mass for the Supreme Court at St. Matthew’s cathedral in Washington thinking it would be the usual Latin Mass. Cardinal Wuerl welcomed in the entire cabal of DC Elites including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is in the direct chain of command that aids the odious Saudis in their ruthless destruction of Yemen and collaborates with Syrian jihadists that murder and persecute Christians. Many others who arrogantly pull the levers of power were there. Praying for what exactly? It was disturbing…

#3 Comment By Liam On October 3, 2017 @ 10:22 am

That dynamic among Trump supporter is better described as: We want the 1920s back.

You can’t have them – they are gone.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 3, 2017 @ 10:45 am

Probably, “Core Hillary Supporters” would have favored whatever paths she was led down as well by Deep State controllers.

We know that whomever is elected and whatever the promises were, once elections are over, they truly are over. After that, they are meaningless to policy. All that’s left is a kind of loyalty to the original vote for whomever was preferred over the other, regardless of actual policies chosen.

#5 Comment By Jay C On October 3, 2017 @ 11:16 am

@Liam:

I’m not sure that wanting “the 1920s back” – at least not the real 1920’s and at least not in foreign affairs, is likely to be what most “Trump supporters” are after. Unless the really DO want to retreat into isolationism: but from Mr. Larison’s link, it sounds like neo-imperialist hegemony is more what they are envisioning.

#6 Comment By activate On October 3, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

My definition of “active role”:

Maintain embassies in foreign countries.
Assist with natural disasters in foreign countries.
Trade with foreign countries.
Cultural/scientific/educational exchanges and collaboration with foreign countries.
Defensive military alliances.

My definition of “wasteful, unnecessary, f***ed up meddling”:

Almost anything beyond the above

#7 Comment By catbird On October 3, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

In other words, reading this together with Hawley’s review of Kolozi’s book ( [2] ), the reality is, if you want any kind of limits on businesses ability to act, or if you want any kind of limit to US domination of the world, realistically, the Republicans, or Trump, or “conservatives” (of whatever variety you want– “real”, “paleo-” alt-, whatever) are not what you want. They either don’t want them, or can’t effect.

On the other hand, while not all Democrats or left wingers will limit business or cut back on unilateral US domination, still every new limit on US business or US domination will can from Democrats and left-winger, for the foreseeable future. That seems to be the facts of the situation today.

#8 Comment By bacon On October 3, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

There’s an old saying – who pays, says. The corollary is who wants to say has to pay. How many of the Trump crowd would back up their nationalistic attitude with a tax increase or accept dramatic cutbacks in spending on schools, infrastructure, the list is long, or happily increase our deficit beyond the ridiculous existing amount in order to pay for their vision of national greatness? Or do they just think Trump will wave his magic wand and make it all so?

#9 Comment By Steve On October 3, 2017 @ 3:01 pm

2014: I flew to Paraguay to apply for permanent residency. In three years, if other requirements are met, you can apply for citizenship. What made it preferable to other countries is that you don’t have to actually live there during the three year wait. I don’t want to die in a dying empire. I can also create a place for my kids to escape to if needed.
So, I’m in a taxi between the airport and the hotel and the taxi driver asks me where I’m from and why I am in Paraguay. I explained it to him and he asks why an american would want to live in Paraguay. In my poor Spanish, I told him, “In the United States, we drink the blood and the tears of the whole world.”
He looked surprised, then clapped me on my shoulder and called me his brother. I knew then that I was doing the right thing. Starve the beast.

#10 Comment By Whine Merchant On October 3, 2017 @ 6:07 pm

@Liam & Jay:
My take is that ‘the base’ want ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and ‘Mayberry’ 1950s. The reality TV performer in the WH is supposed to resolve everything and make everyone happy by the end of the episode, no matter how dramatic the crisis may appear before the penultimate ad break.
After all, Father Knows Best –

Frighteningly, many of those voters actually cannot see that this pre-Civil Rights Hollywood myth is a purely fabricated memory of this era.

#11 Comment By Clyde Schechter On October 3, 2017 @ 8:24 pm

“On the other hand, while not all Democrats or left wingers will limit business or cut back on unilateral US domination, still every new limit on US business or US domination will can from Democrats and left-winger, for the foreseeable future. That seems to be the facts of the situation today.”

And what is the evidence for that? Kennedy and Johnson gave us the Vietnam War. Clinton got us embroiled in Bosnia and Kosovo and also initiated strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan. Obama’s entire two terms was nothing but a continuation of Bush’s foreign policy. He may have toned down the rhetoric, but nothing changed militarily. Hiliary Clinton, while part of his administration, persistently advocated for a yet more aggressive stance. The only Democrat in office you can point to who didn’t have a penchant for military intervention was Jimmy Carter.

While I do believe that Sanders’ is little disposed to military adventurism, it also seems that he has little interest in international affairs and is not especially knowledgeable in that sphere. That leaves him easy prey to the neocons that control the national security apparatus no matter who is President. I’m not sure he would be able to rein them in were he in the White House. I think similar considerations apply to Elizabeth Warren.

#12 Comment By catbird On October 3, 2017 @ 8:57 pm

” The only Democrat in office you can point to who didn’t have a penchant for military intervention was Jimmy Carter.”
And the only Republican is . . . no one. Nothing you’ve said contradicts what I said. Not all Democrats are non-interventionists — not even most –, but the few interventionists who can actually do something every once in a while are all Democrats.

I wish it wasn’t true, but I have to bow to facts.

#13 Comment By D On October 3, 2017 @ 9:58 pm

People can moan about the hated “Elites” influencing public opinion, as per SteveM’s post but ultimately the core Trump supporters you reference are motivated by a combination of resentment, jingoism, and a desire for dominance in a world seemingly gone awry. They are aggrieved for a million reasons both justified and not, and they are deeply, tortuously confused. Hell, Trump himself typified this schizoid manner of thinking throughout the campaign; he decried the Iraq war and other now-unpopular interventions while threatening to “kick ass,” pull out of the Iran deal, etc. He maligned the Libya intervention in the same breath as he suggested sending 20 or 30 thousand combat troops to Iraq to fight ISIS. What the core base hears is the anger, the tough guy posturing, and all the other crap. Anyone who spends time among true hardcore Trumpkins (and many of them are absolutely decent people) understands that resentment is the only politics they have. American Greatness is simply a function of how much ass one kicks. You can blame “The Elites” all you want, as nebulous as that term has become, and indeed our elite institutions demand reform. But at some point people need a mirror, not another excuse. And maybe – just maybe – some right thinking “Elites” aren’t such a bad thing after all.

Anyway, thanks to Larison for constant great reporting and opinion on foreign policy issues most would rather ignore.

#14 Comment By more war! On October 4, 2017 @ 8:17 pm

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I voted for Trump in the hope that he would drag us into a war in Niger. And now he has!

[3]

#15 Comment By jk On October 5, 2017 @ 1:33 pm

Here’s a thought experiment: What country has the US (alone, not with allies) improved in the past 50 years? What country(ies) has the US made worse in the past 50 years?

Sometimes the return on investment mentality should be used when thinking about the US led social engineering experiments abroad. Also the law of unintended consequences should always be considered.

The US could have paved its streets freeways in gold, had a manned mission to Mars, and gave free college tuition with the amount of trillions its spent in the last decade and half alone. Though the free college tuition, depending on the degree, may be a massive waste of money also.

Yes, I am a vet.