A Short Primer on American Preferences in Foreign Policy


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….

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