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Americans Want Greater Restraint in Foreign Policy

The Eurasia Group Foundation recently released a survey of American public opinion on foreign policy. Ian Bremmer comments on the findings:

No matter what party they claim allegiance to, Americans favor a foreign policy that resists entanglements abroad, the survey found—and it’s not limited to conservative libertarians on the right and liberal pacifists on the left. In every age group polled, respondents exhibited a waning appetite for the obligations and impositions of imperial governance.

The survey is another piece of evidence that Americans increasingly favor greater restraint in foreign policy after almost two decades of unceasing foreign wars. It also identifies how large the gap is between the public and foreign policy professionals in their views on the proper U.S. role in the world and on specific issues. The latter consistently favor a more activist and interventionist role for the U.S. than the public does, and they have persisted in this view despite decades of high-profile, costly failures.

On Iran and its nuclear program, the survey found that there was almost no support for attacking Iran even if it were building nuclear weapons. Just 8% supported preventive war against Iran under those circumstances. That suggests that there is absolutely no appetite for a war with Iran when it is still verifiably complying with the nuclear deal. Americans are also reluctant to plunge into new conflicts for ostensibly humanitarian reasons, and relatively few (21%) support unilateral U.S. interventions:

When confronting human rights abuses, consistently across party affiliations, restraint was the first choice, U.N. leadership was the second choice, and American intervention was the last choice.

One other section of the survey produced some notable results. Using Walter Russell Mead’s types, the respondents were asked which foreign policy tradition they identified with. Interestingly, Republicans and independents were most likely to choose the description that went with the Jeffersonian, and Democrats were most likely to choose the Wilsonian one. Overall, Jeffersonians accounted for 26% of respondents, and Wilsonians made up 25%. Very few respondents (12%) chose the “Jacksonian” option. If this survey is accurate, there are hardly any real “Jacksonians” out there, and even among Republicans they make up a small minority.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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