A Short Primer on American Preferences in Foreign Policy

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The American public largely seems to approve of President Obama’s specific foreign policy choices. They want to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan; they don’t want to go to war in Syria; they don’t want troops on the ground in Ukraine; and they support serious negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.

And yet, paradoxically, they don’t think much of Obama’s foreign policy in the aggregate. Overall approval ratings for his foreign policy are stuck at roughly George W. Bush levels. What’s going on?

With the benefit of my vast experience reading the mood of the American public, I’d like to explain what’s going on. This should save our nation’s pundits millions of windy words trying to invent sophisticated explanations that make them look smart. Here it is:

The American public really likes short, decisive wars that the United States wins conclusively. A couple of weeks is good. A month or two is pretty much the outside limit.

That’s it! Now you understand foreign policy. Grenada: good! Panama: good! Gulf War: not bad! Kosovo: pushing it. Iraq: horrible. Syria and other places where we fail to intervene at all: massive cognitive dissonance. War is bad! But we want to kick the bad guys in the butt! Does not compute! President is failing….failing….failing….

This has been a public service announcement. Are there any questions?

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate