Americans are for smart engagement

By Daniel DePetris

After a decade and a half of non-stop war overseas and crises that the United States has been forced to combat in very little time, are the American people beginning to turn away from the world? According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the answer is an emphatic “no.”  Americans are still far and wide proponents of engagement overseas (64 percent), agree that America’s alliances have been a boon to U.S. national security (89 percent), and want the U.S. to continue devoting military resources towards NATO (63 percent).

The foreign policy establishment, however, is missing the broader point.  The more accurate question to ask is not whether the United States should be engaged with other nations across the globe (the study doesn't define the term "engagement"), but how the United States should engage. 

While the American people rightly value our position in the world as a superpower and take great pride in our history, the public has learned to distinguish between engagement at all costs and a foreign policy that is smart, prudent, pragmatic, and diplomatic. Smart engagement includes a willingness to sit down at the negotiating table — even with America’s adversaries — in order to de-escalate conflicts, reduce violence, prevent an armed confrontation from turning into a full-blown war, and to boost America’s strategic position in the world.  If there is any silver lining from the invasion and occupation of Iraq, it is that the conflict has provided the American public with a greater appreciation for diplomacy as the primary tool of conflict resolution and increased support for war as the very last resort. 

In other words, the last fifteen years has produced an American public that is more reticent about plunging into conflicts or crises without asking the hard questions first.

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Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.