March 28, 2014
Ward: Go Big and Stay Home
It would be hard to blame the White House for feeling unappreciated. Despite giving Americans the hands-off, "mind-your-own business” approach to the world for which they asked, recent polls indicate they are unhappy with the result. With multiple places around the globe mired in some kind of turmoil – Ukraine, Russia and Crimea; the waters of the Asia-Pacific; Syria; western and central Africa; Venezuela – Americans’ perceptions of the president’s ability to conduct sound foreign policy are, rightly or wrongly, souring.
In a recent Washington Post article, Robert Kagan tried to explain this paradox. He claimed that “for many decades Americans thought of their nation as special. ... Now, pundits and prognosticators are telling them those days are over, that it is time for the United States to seek more modest goals commensurate with its declining power.” In some sense, he is correct. But the underlying causes for this disconnect are deeper than Kagan seems to think: Americans want positive foreign policy results without hard foreign policy work.
According to a January Pew poll, Americans have grand ambitions: protecting the United States from terrorist attacks; preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction; becoming more involved in the global economy; keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; and many others. The message that comes across is that Americans want to steer the world safely home, but they don’t want to be in the driver’s seat.