What Is America’s Cause in the World?

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“Take away this pudding; it has no theme,” is a comment attributed to Winston Churchill, when a disappointing dessert was put in front of him.

Writers have used Churchill’s remark to describe a foreign policy that lacks coherence or centrality of purpose.

For most of our lifetimes, this has not been true of the United States. The goal of our foreign policy has been understandable and defined.

From 1949-1989, it was Cold War containment of the Soviet Empire and USSR.
Ronald Reagan believed in a “rollback” of communism, once telling an aide that his policy might be summed up as: “We win. They lose.”

At the Cold War’s end, George H. W. Bush said America would now lead mankind in the creation of “a New World Order.”

George W. Bush was going to deny to all “axis of evil” nations — North Korea, Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — access to the “world’s worst weapons,” with our ultimate goal being “ending tyranny in our world.”

According to the Biden Democrats of today, America’s goal is the preservation of “a rules-based international order,” which is less inspiring than “Remember the Alamo!” or “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

What are the causes that actually animate Americans?

A March survey of 2,000 registered voters, done by the Center for American Progress, reveals that most Republicans still share the foreign policy priorities of Donald J. Trump.

Asked to identify their first three foreign policy priorities from a list of a dozen, two-thirds of Republicans, 65%, gave as their principal concern “Reducing illegal immigration.” And 57% of Republicans put “Protecting jobs for American workers” right behind it. Independents agreed that these should be the top twin goals of U.S. foreign policy.

What does this tell us?

Economic nationalism is alive and well in the GOP, and securing the border remains a central concern of America’s center-right.

In third position, at 31% among Republicans, was “Taking on China’s economic and military aggression.”

Only 9% of Republicans listed “Fighting global poverty and promoting human rights” as top foreign policy priorities. Last among GOP priorities, at 7%, was “Promoting democratic rights and freedoms abroad.”

Indeed, this was the least popular foreign policy option among all voters.

Conclusion:

The priorities of the Bush presidencies and the neocons -- democracy crusades, free trade, the New World Order, open borders -- have failed to recapture the constituencies they lost in the Trump years.

While "Combating global climate change" rests near the bottom of Republican concerns at 10%, it is the No. 1 priority of Democrats, with 44% listing it first.

When it comes to "Ending US involvement in wars in the Middle East," that goal ranks 5th among all voters. Democrats, Republicans and independents all support that objective.

Since the last CAP survey in 2019, the greatest change is the reduced concern over "terrorist threats" from al-Qaida and ISIS. Fewer than 1 in 4 voters now view this as a top priority.

As Matthew Petti writes in an analysis of the CAP survey, today, Americans "prioritize getting out of Middle East wars over confronting Middle East adversaries."

This survey would thus seem to provide public support for the Trump-Biden withdrawal from Afghanistan, and for Biden's effort to reengage with Iran and renew the 2015 nuclear deal.

Also ranked high among Democrats and independents, but less so among Republicans, is "Improving relationships with allies."

What does the survey tell us?

Illegal immigration and economic nationalism energize the GOP rank-and-file; climate change does not. There is no enthusiasm in either party for new democracy crusades. And there seems to be no enthusiasm in either party for a clash with Iran, North Korea, Russia or China.

Only 14% of Democrats wish to address China's "military and economic aggression," though 31% of Republicans do.

But the overall impression here is one of democratic confusion.
We Americans are all over the lot about what our foreign policy should be and what it should do. One is reminded of an insight from Walter Lippmann about U.S. foreign policy confusion before World War II:

"When a people is divided within itself about the conduct of foreign relations, it is unable to agree on the determination of its true interest. It is unable to prepare adequately for war or safeguard successfully its peace. Thus, it course in foreign affairs depends, in Hamilton's words, not on reflection and choice, but on accident and force."

Should we energetically promote democracy worldwide, because it is the right and moral thing to do, though the American people clearly do not see this as America's cause?

Should we intervene to help Ukraine retrieve Crimea?

Should we fight to prevent China from consolidating rocks, reefs and islets of the East and South China Seas?

Is preserving the independence of Taiwan, which we conceded half a century ago is part of China, worth a war with a nuclear-armed China?

What role should U.S. public opinion play in the shaping of U.S. foreign policy?

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8 thoughts on “What Is America’s Cause in the World?”

  1. First of all, America’s cause in the world should not be to act as the world’s policemen. We’ve played that role to many times in the past. Look how long we’ve been in Afghanistan and how many of our soldiers have died. For what? It hasn’t made one bit of difference in or for Afghanistan. They haven’t even strengthened their own military so that they could protect their own country. American’s most important cause in the world should be to protect America! You can bet that if American needed help with anything, no other country would come running with aid for America! No other country is trying to become the world’s policemen! Let’s get our fighting forces home. Let’s not lose any more of our soldiers to any other nationality while world terrorists are able to get into our country through questionable boarders. Let our citizens and soldiers work for a better country and economy for Americans! We can then address our economy and boarders without worrying about terrorism on our soil.

    1. I can find nothing to disagree with in your post. It’s way past time that we start taking care this country and it’s citizens. Being the world’s policeman and ATM has just about bankrupt us so maybe we should let someone else take on that job.

  2. Actually our biggest concern should be purging our government, military and educational institutions of Marxist ideology and reigning in big tech.

  3. A bit of history that is not taught in any school today may help provide some perspective and reasoning to what American has been to the world since the end of WW11.
    Britain was in decline and America on the rise so as the war ended we “cut” a deal with the winning countries. Given that we had the most dominate Navy in the world we agreed to be the world’s policeman so that goods could flow freely over international waters. In return we wanted unrestricted trade with these countries and stable currencies/exchange rates. The international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944 was the mechanism to achieve the currency objective and our place as the new world power leader was to accomplish the safe navigation of international waters. We also became the worlds reserve currency.
    Many believe things began to break down when Nixon took us off the gold standard as many of the worlds leaders concerned that we were depreciating the dollar were looking to trade their mounting dollars for gold. Of course we did not have the gold to do that because we were depreciating our dollar at a rate faster than we were adding gold reserves.
    We have benefited immensely from being the world’s policeman and having the world use our currency in trade. Those in this blog will not have to worry much longer about those concerns because we have so corrupted the system that we to will be relegated to a third world country when we are no longer the reserve currency. Prices will soar for many commodities(oil) and there will shortages a plenty as the world competes for what was once ours. Careful for what we wish for here because most Americans and zero millennials(and I include those in academia) have no clue what is about to happen to our wonderful Republic.

  4. Sometimes we put too much attention on other countries and not enough on the problems we have in our own.
    Money is so often allocated for overseas situations when we have situations here that need attention.
    I advocate that we keep positive relationships with our foreign neighbors if possible, to help if it is really
    needed for the sake of peace and goodwill. The Virus has taught us that as a world, we are all in this together
    and to survive we need each other.

  5. If Truman, the other Generals in European Theater saw what Gen Patton saw they, would seen how many wars of Police action and American lives lost and minds ruin in these wars because some fat cat sitting in a leather chair wanted to increase their pollical muscles. The Goal in the American Militarily is to go in an win by any means and get out. Don’t allow any veteran or veterans to suffer in a non Geneva way, which the Reds or any fascists does to POWS to get information out of prisoners, any means necessary.