Foreign Policy

Americans agree on this: the United States needs a more realist foreign policy

August 28, 2020

With the nation facing a pandemic, ongoing civil unrest, and an historic election, Americans agree on very little – except that it is time for U.S. leaders to adopt a more realist foreign policy.

According to a recent YouGov poll commissioned by the Charles Koch Institute (CKI), 75 percent of Americans believe “the United States should prioritize domestic issues over foreign policy issues.” That opinion was supported by voters in both parties. More than four-fifths, 82 percent, of Republicans said they want U.S. leaders to prioritize domestic issues while 75 percent of Democrats said the same. Overall, just six percent of respondents said they want U.S. lawmakers to prioritize foreign policy over domestic issues.

In The National Interest, CKI Vice President of Policy and Research Will Ruger highlighted this trend, “Given how polarized the country is on so many other issues, it is particularly striking how unified Americans are in ending our endless wars in the Middle East and avoiding greater military entanglement in conflicts overseas.”

Regarding U.S. military engagement around the world, respondents favored greater caution. Nearly half, 48 percent, said the United States should be less militarily engaged while only seven percent wanted more military engagement.

Respondents were especially frustrated with U.S. intervention in the Middle East. Nearly three-quarters, 74 percent, said they support bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq and 76 percent said they favor bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. Those figures have increased substantially in the last two years. In a March 2018 poll commissioned by CKI, 50 percent of respondents supported decreasing (26 percent) or fully removing (24 percent) U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Regarding Iraq, 25 percent said they wanted to remove all troops and 25 percent called for a decrease in troop levels.

Ruger also noted Americans have aligned themselves with lawmakers who support a more realist foreign policy. He said, “The election of Donald Trump and the significant support garnered by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the Democrat primary suggests that Americans have become weary of this heavy burden. These elected officials prominently called for new thinking about America’s role in the world and benefited from it.”

Given the opinions outlined above, it is unsurprising that a plurality (37 percent) of respondents said they support a reduction in U.S. defense spending. Only 13 percent want lawmakers to raise the Pentagon budget while 28 percent want to keep it where it is currently. Support for spending reductions jumped when respondents were reminded the national debt currently stands at $23 trillion. When factoring in this calculation, 49 percent of respondents said they want to cut Pentagon spending and only eight percent said they want to see it increased.

In a press statement, Ruger concluded, “After nearly 20 years of costly and often unnecessary military engagement abroad along with the current challenges facing our country at home, it is a positive sign that the American public increasingly wants to see the United States pursue a more realist foreign policy.”