The polls are clear. The vote is in. Americans are fed up with foreign intervention and nation building. America should begin a new era of minding its own business. The political elites have been allowed to run roughshod over public opinion. A radical change in course is demanded. Here Cato Institute’s Chris Preble and Ben Friedman bring focus to what is required and why.
A recent Pew Research poll finds that historically high numbers of Americans want their government to do less abroad. That worries many foreign policy elites, who fear that bad wars and growing debt are reviving old-fashioned isolationism.
But the public is neither isolationist nor misguided when it comes to foreign policy. Americans do not want to withdraw from the world; they just prefer not to try to run it with their military. A security strategy made to match those preferences — what we and others call restraint — would keep us out of avoidable trouble and husband our resources, ultimately making us safer and richer.
Pew found that 52% of the respondents agree that “the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own,” and that 80% want to “concentrate more on our own national problems” while focusing less on international troubles. Both totals are highs in the 50 years that Pew has periodically asked those questions.
The trend toward insularity ends there, however. The poll also shows that, while the public remains skeptical about the virtue of trade and immigration, it has not grown more skeptical of late. In other words, Americans are less willing to embark on military adventures abroad, but they are not rejecting the world.
Unfortunately, America’s leaders aren’t on the same page as the American public.