Americans often disagree, sometimes forcefully, about what our role in the world should be. From my perspective there is a lot more consensus on the topic than initially meets the eye.
Americans want to keep the United States a global superpower. Some few may object to that, but the opposition is not widespread.
Americans support the dense network of international organizations, global institutions, and military alliances that we have entered and understand they are fundamental to our security and prosperity. They have favorable views of NATO, the United Nations, and other alliances.
Americans want us to work with other countries. Among both Democrats and Republicans, majorities believe that diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace. They recognize and respect other nations’ interests, even if they do not always concur. I have encountered only a few people who want us to play no leadership role at all in the world.
Having said that, more than a few Americans believe we have tried to do too much, and, on occasion, we have overcommitted. The sentiment is that other countries should do more to solve their own problems rather than relying on the U.S. for political, economic, or military support. If you ask them whether the U.S. should focus first on problems at home – our internal economic and political challenges – most will say yes. But they still want us to play a leading role in international affairs.
Most Americans also have positive views of our allies, especially Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea. And many Americans have either a negative or ambiguous view of China, which they often see as a rising threat. They are uneasy, even alarmed by China’s aggressive foreign policy, its impact on the environment, its involvement in cyberattacks, and the view that the U.S. is losing jobs to China.
Americans are generally in favor of free trade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.
Most Americans favor a foreign policy that restores our standing in the world, which has taken quite a blow over the years. Trump’s dislike of immigration, hostility to refugees, racial and religious minorities and his rhetoric against racial justice and human rights hurts America’s standing in the world.
His warm posture toward Russian President Vladimir Putin puzzles many Americans, and alienates our European friends, who worried about Russia’s aggression in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, including its attacks on our allies in Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine.
Moreover, he tapped into a strain of isolationism and hyper-nationalism with his “America first” rhetoric, that does not reflect their view.
Most of all, Americans want a foreign policy that engages with other countries, protects our interests, and seeks to make the world a safer, better place.
By Lee H. Hamilton