The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply. ~David Brooks
Brooks’ remarks go a long way towards showing just how uninformative that Pew survey result was. The Pew survey offered two possible responses: the U.S. should go its own way or it should mind its own business. Given those choices, the “isolationist” answer seemed attractive to a few more respondents. The “all-time high” level of “isolationist” sentiment was 49%, and the “go our own way” response was 44%. If Brooks is right that both are fueled by reaction against “the educated class,” that means that the views of “the educated class” account for 7% of the population at most, which suggests that the Pew result is misleading.
93% of the public does not really hold radically different views on foreign affairs from those of “the educated class,” but if you took only the superficial, top-line result from the Pew survey you could make such a claim. The more one looks at that survey, the more one finds that the general public and CFR members (who will have to stand in for “the educated class” for the purposes of this discussion) do not differ quite so wildly when it comes to many of the specific questions. There are differences, yes, but when it comes to assessing “major threats” most of the general public and most CFR members agree that Islamic extremist groups, Iran’s nuclear program and international financial instability all pose major threats to the U.S. The general public tends to worry more about China and North Korea, and CFR members tend to worry more about Pakistan, but what the Pew survey results as a whole show is an entire country preoccupied with a multitude of foreign threats. As I have said several times before, ours is not a nation intent on withdrawing from the world or “turning inward.” It is a nation that has been scared half to death by the constant fearmongering of its elites, and the general public has tended to overreact to each episode of fearmongering by embracing ever more aggressive policies.
The Pew report states:
In terms of the possible use of U.S. military force, the public continues to be more supportive than CFR members of taking preemptive action against countries that may threaten the U.S., but have not yet attacked. The public also is much more supportive of using U.S. military force if it were certain that Iran had produced a nuclear weapon. However, there is greater support among foreign policy opinion leaders than the public for using force in response to another scenario – if extremists were poised to take over Pakistan.
In other words, the general public and CFR members seem to differ mainly over where and when to employ military force. As usual, the opposition between unilateralism and multilateralism is a distinction based almost entirely on means and process. What is striking and perhaps rather depressing is the general agreement among members of the general public and the CFR that we are perfectly justified in using such force as and when we deem it necessary. The “populists” are more aggressive and more willing to launch strikes on Iran, but this is only because they have accepted the exaggerated warnings of foreign policy elites that Iran’s nuclear program is a great threat. The “populist” response is more knee-jerk and less attractive to “the educated class,” but the response is the fruit of the propaganda that members of “the educated class” have been spreading for more than a decade.