After 15 years of unsuccessful, ill-conceived efforts to re-shape the Middle East by force, two new polls reveal Americans have a fresh taste for diplomacy and little appetite for further entanglement abroad. These survey results demand serious consideration from the Washington foreign policy establishment and together should serve as a guidepost for reassessment and hopefully reorientation of U.S. foreign policy after Election Day.
The first and more sweeping poll measured Americans’ foreign policy views writ large, painting a picture of a country that has grown rightly skeptical of the merits of interventionism after years of Middle East morass.
Only one in four want the next president to expand U.S. military action overseas—and in a striking indictment of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus, just 14 percent were willing to agree that our buccaneering foreign policy has made America more safe since 9/11. A whopping 80 percent said the president must seek authorization from Congress before launching a new war, a constitutional requirement President Obama has blithely bypassed (with our feckless Congress’ happy permission) in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere.
Asked about more specific foreign policy situations, only one in 10 respondents said the United States should be participating in Saudi Arabia’s brutal intervention in Yemen; and a majority opposed putting American ground troops in Syria.
The Syria question is where the second, more targeted, poll becomes useful. This University of Maryland survey found Democrats and Republicans alike agree that the United States should diplomatically cooperate with Russia in Syria to oppose the Islamic State, while just 2 percent were on board with making regime change (and presumably the inevitable resultant nation-building project) the United States’ primary Syrian objective.
This should not be confused for an endorsement of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rather, it is a sign of Americans’ willingness to recognize the practicalities that a freewheeling, free-spending Washington is so determined to ignore. Only our profligate government could look at five (or more, depending on how you count ‘em) floundering wars that have cost us dearly in blood and treasure and conclude, “Hey, another major regime project that risks war with Russia is a great idea!”
Saner heads must prevail, but unfortunately they are all too few in the halls of power. “The public is demanding a humbler, wiser approach steeped in realism when using our military abroad,” explains William Ruger, Vice President of Research and Policy at the Charles Koch Institute, the organization which along with Center for the National Interest commissioned the first of these two surveys. “This poll shows the disconnect between the Washington foreign policy elite, who support an active, aggressive stance, and an American public that is wary of repeated ventures abroad.”
Let Election Day be an opportunity to at least narrow that disconnect. For Congress specifically, a new occupant in the White House offers a reset of the dysfunctional, irresponsible, and unconstitutional turn our foreign policy has taken for the last decade and a half. Our representatives should live up to their title and do the will of their constituents: Reassert congressional authority in foreign policy. Demand accountability from an out-of-control Executive Branch with a nasty habit of unnecessary and aimless meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. And summon the political courage to do the hard work of developing a sober foreign policy to defend America’s national interests, narrowly conceived.