We’re told liberals and conservatives are deeply and hopelessly divided. After a spate of overseas adventures propelled by ill-fated strategies with jargony names like “preventive war,” “regime change” and “nation building,” Americans of all political stripes are becoming disillusioned with the arguments supporting U.S. military intervention.
To be sure, there are plenty of real differences between the political parties right now. But on foreign policy, the real disconnect seems to be between members of the public and the leaders who represent them. There has long been an awkward consensus among neoconservative hawks, who argue preventive military action makes Americans safer and neoliberal interventionists, who argue that toppling tyrants is our moral obligation. Both views are the products of specialized knowledge, good intentions and creative theorizing. But neither has made a convincing case to the American people, especially not recently.
This is certainly supported by a new study just put out by my organization, the Eurasia Group Foundation (EGF), which found broad political agreement in the desire for a more restrained foreign policy. In fact, our national poll of more than 1,000 voting-age Americans found support for a more focused, foresighted and finite foreign policy crosses not just the usual party lines, but also generational boundaries, socioeconomic class and levels of foreign policy knowledge. In other words, we’re not talking about the usual anti-globalist suspects here.
President Donald Trump has channeled this feeling of war weariness. His calls for a precipitous withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan, though since moderated, even received support from the Senate Democrats making a bid to run against him. But perhaps the biggest test to the administration’s commitment to restraint will be the showdown underway in Venezuela.
Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, failed to contain his contempt for a freshman Congresswoman who, in a testy exchange, attempted to hold him accountable for the reckless Latin America policies of past administrations. And in a stunning display highlighting the dearth of innovative foreign policy ideas, national security advisor John Bolton invoked the Monroe Doctrine from the 1820s to explain why intervention in Venezuela is warranted while other dictators elsewhere are tolerated. The Monroe Doctrine has been resurrected throughout the past century to aid disastrous interventions on the continent, including the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Guatemala and Chile which led to brutal dictatorships in both.