By John Dorschner
In this highly polarized America, a fascinating trend is emerging: A growing dissatisfaction with the country forever flexing its military might around the world.
That’s particularly true among the young. A recent survey found that more than half of 18- to 29-year-olds believe the United States “is not an exceptional nation” — compared to one in four over the age of 60.
“That’s a big wow,” says Trevor Thrall of the Cato Institute.
These youths have come of age not only after World War II and the Cold War, but also after the 9/11 catastrophe that sparked the “the war on global terrorism.”
Overall, the survey by the Eurasia Group Foundation in September found that a plurality of Americans — 44 percent — believe that the country should reduce the number of troops overseas troops (now about 190,000 soldiers). That compares to 31.3 percent who believe that we should maintain or increase military involvement. (One in four say they have no opinion on this.)
Just as interesting is where the survey came from: It was financed by the libertarian Charles Koch Foundation and administered by Mark Hannah, a Democratic political analyst who worked on John Kerry’s and Barack Obama’s campaigns. This alliance of left and right interests share a goal of reducing America’s obsession with global military dominance.
The survey results came out in a recent webinar sponsored by the Quincy Institute, which is funded by Koch and George Soros with a mission of moving “U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.”
Webinar participants suggested that one path to finding common ground in polarized America is Afghanistan.
The Eurasia survey of 1,781 voting-age adults found that 61.6 percent support the negotiated U.S.-Taliban agreement and only 8.2 percent oppose. (The rest are not sure.) That would get American troops out of the country completely.
Support for continued involvement in Afghanistan continues to plummet. As recently as 2019, almost a third of Americans believed that troops should stay “until all enemies are defeated.” In 2020, that figure was cut in almost in half — 15.5 percent.
Stephen Wertheim of the Quincy Institute suggested in the webinar that, as politicians seek a way to build Republican-Democrat cooperation, withdrawal from Afghanistan might be a good place to start.
The problem, says Wertheim, is that with Trump out of the picture, there remains “a conventional wisdom that one of few things that party leadership [on both sides] is endless wars and extending us dominance globally.”
He suggests that some of the newer members of Congress, less tied to inside-the-Beltway thinking, could lead the way on this.
At present, America spends more on defense than the next ten highest spending countries combined, including China and Russia. Trump talked about troop withdrawals, but defense spending reached new heights in his era.
Under Trump, China became the new archenemy, but still half the respondents favor reducing the number of soldiers in the area. Again, there’s a huge age disparity: 58.7 percent of those 18–29 support Asian troop withdrawals, compared with 40 percent of those over 40.
Of course, huge differences remain between Republicans and Democrats. A survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs revealed that Democrats believe the top three threats to America are COVID-19, climate change and economic inequality, while Republicans believe they’re China, terrorism and immigration.
Democrats are also much more likely to support working with other countries and international organizations to find peaceful institutions.
Thrall, the Cato analyst who moderated the Quincy webinar, said the surveys showed much less support for America constantly flexing its military muscles, but revealed no great support for alternatives. “I see way too much polarization.”
The libertarian Cato is dedicated to “principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.” The peace aspect is often ignored by leftists, but the well-funded libertarians have become leaders in advocating reduction of big-government military spending. Progressives of course would like to see that reduction benefit social programs, while libertarians simply want reduced taxes.
Perhaps the oddest part of the current peace politics is how Trump has effected/not effected attitudes toward foreign policy. Younger voters may want out of Afghanistan, but they avoid voting for Trump. Older voters tend to support sticking around in Afghanistan, but are much more likely to be Trumpians.
What’s more, despite Trump’s best efforts to crush peaceful international cooperation, the survey found that 70.9 percent want the United States to return to the Paris climate accord, 65.6 percent want the Iran nuclear agreement reinstated and 71.1 percent want the country to re-engage with the World Health Organization.
The Eurasia survey showed that only one in four thought Trump’s dumping the Iranian nuclear treaty made America safer. Two in five — 41.2 percent — thought Trump’s action made the country less safe. (About 13 percent thought it made no difference and 20 percent weren’t sure.)
The Quincy webinar “America the Unexceptional: The foreign policy the American people” want can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/yxbl7zla
The Eurasia Foundation survey is at https://tinyurl.com/y5zftvf7
My Facebook page on Peace and War is at https://www.facebook.com/Peace-and-War-105272414636275
CORRECTION: The first version of this story stated that there were 190,000 U.S. troops in 140 countries. A friend noted that the 140 “probably includes around 97 countries which have military personnel assigned to the the US Defense Attache Offices at US embassies.” That reveals sloppy reporting on my part: I can’t find the original source that I got those stats from, and it’s certainly an exaggeration to include U.S. embassy staff. I apologize for the error.