What Americans want from the world

What Americans want from the world

When it comes to foreign policy, American voters have always been a mass of contradictions. The majority still believes their country is the most powerful in the world, but they see that position slipping. In many cases, they just seem to wish the rest of the planet would go away.

Clearly, that’s not going to happen. While the 2016 presidential election looks set to offer American voters a choice of foreign-policy viewpoints on a scale unseen in recent political history, recent experience seems to have dashed any hope that current challenges might have easy answers.

That’s hardly surprising. In the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has plowed colossal human, political and economic effort into trying to keep itself safe, particularly through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither seems to have made things significantly better – indeed, quite the opposite. The wider geopolitical picture continues to look ever more complex, with the European Union deeper in crisis than ever after Britons voted to withdraw in June.

The recent attacks in Orlando and Nice inevitably fueled calls from both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to step up military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Middle East – even though the attack itself appeared homegrown. At the same time, Washington faces direct challenges from major nation-states – particularly Russia and China – on a scale not seen since the Cold War.

Inside the United States, many voters seem to have lost their belief that America’s engagement in the world – military, economic and diplomatic – genuinely serves their interests. To them, globalization has simply meant exporting jobs overseas while importing security problems and competition, particularly through migration.

Republican standard bearer Trump’s ability to tap into that xenophobia looks to have been a key factor of his astonishing success. Even if, as some polls suggest, Clinton, the ultimate foreign-policy insider, ends up winning this election, the isolationism his campaign has tried to tap is unlikely to go away.

At the same time, Trump was quick to demand more action against ISIL in the aftermath of Orlando. When it comes to dealing with such militants, some 60 percent of Americans – a majority of Republicans and Democrats – said they wanted the Obama administration to “do more.” But, as always, it was far from clear what that might actually mean.

Republicans, for sure, were notably more enthusiastic than Democrats on ramping up air strikes against ISIL. The majority of voters from both parties, however, were not keen on ramping up the use of special forces in Iraq or Syria and even less on deploying conventional ground troops. Neither did they like the idea of taking refugees from Syria; more than half said they believed to do so would affect the security of the United States.

Nor are there any simple responses to the rising challenges of Russia and China, both reasserting themselves in the neighborhood.

If this election so far has shown everything, it is that domestic politics in the United States are as polarized as at any point in living memory. Somehow, America must manage them while dealing with what seems an equally complicated world. Given events so far, it’s not quite clear how well that will work out.

This abridge article is taken from Reuters.