MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

What foreign policy elites really think about you – Responsible Statecraft

Posted by M. C. on January 12, 2023

“If public opinion doesn’t match up with the Washington program then it must be wrong, misunderstood, or worse, irrelevant.”

https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2023/01/06/what-foreign-policy-elites-really-think-about-you/

Written by
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

Tell us, Washington, how do you really feel about American public opinion?

For years now, Beltway establishmentarians have been trying desperately to countermand the idea that they are in fact, elites: out of touch, impervious to what regular Americans want and need, and slaves to conventional foreign policy doctrine and dogma. 

But it is wartime again, and that’s when the masks slip. It began with the steady stream of Eliot Cohen and Anne Applebaum columns from the start of the Russian invasion, all demanding that Americans see the war in Ukraine as our fight, a struggle for democracy, the liberal world order. If Americans do not have the stomach for it, there is something wrong with us, a moral failing.

These ham-fisted approaches befit the neoconservatives who wield them, as they did the same in the Global War on Terror, and to a great extent, worked to keep the Iraq War going for almost a decade and the war in Afghanistan shambling on for a full 20 years.

In addition to the destruction of two countries, trillions of dollars, a massive refugee crisis, a new generation of U.S. veterans dependent on lifetime assistance, and countless dead and wounded, these “elites” are in great part responsible for the mistrust of Washington that has eaten away at the culture and politics here to the core.

Poll after poll show a plunging lack of faith in American institutions, including the once-vaunted military. That’s what going to war based on liesdistortions, and rhetorical bullying will do to an already strained and tribalized society. Add a financial collapse (2008) that Washington addressed with an unprecedented bank bailout, while homeowners and workers struggled to survive, and you have the basis for major populist movements — on the left, and the right.

The rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were buoyed in part by a continuing skepticism of the ongoing wars and of the elites at the helm of U.S. foreign policy, which had become as self-serving and disconnected from American interests as they were. 

You would have thought they had learned their lesson.

But the war in Ukraine has given them new purpose and in that vein, to both patronize and ignore the wants and needs of the American public. A new commentary by Gian Gentile and Raphael S. Cohen, deputy director of the Rand Corporation’s Army Research Division, and Air Force Strategy and Doctrine Program, respectively, says it all. Clearly written for Beltway practitioners and politicians, the takeaway from “The Myth of America’s Ukraine Fatigue” is clear: don’t mind the polls, or even American public opinion. Ukraine’s (and in effect, Washington’s) long war will go on no matter what the hoi polloi is thinking, or feeling.

In war, from a purely political perspective, it’s usually safer for politicians to stay the course.

Perhaps this is why democracies’ track records of playing the long game in armed conflicts is actually pretty good. From the ancient Athenians during the Peloponnesian War on through to the present day, democracies have not usually been the fickle, shrinking violets their detractors make them out to be. In the United States, the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan were all eventually deeply unpopular. Yet the United States fought for three years in Korea, almost nine years in Iraq (before going back in after the initial withdrawal), and almost 20 years in both Vietnam and Afghanistan. All these campaigns involved significantly more investment of American blood and treasure than the U.S. commitment to Ukraine has demanded thus far. 

The authors are referring to a number of recent polls that would appear to show that Americans’ unconditional support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion has its limits and in some cases, may be flagging. To start, Cohen and Gentile say that isn’t true, that Americans support Ukrainian sovereignty and the fight for it. Absolutely. What the authors don’t say is that the polls indicate that Americans are also concerned about a protracted war that could lead to more death and a direct U.S. confrontation with the Russians. That they are less enthusiastic about supporting Ukraine “as long as it takes,” and have shown a growing interest in negotiations to end the war sooner than later, even if that ultimately means concessions for both sides.

Instead of recognizing the nuance and giving credit to Americans for understanding the implications of another long war (whether they are directly involved on the ground or not), the authors blame the media for hyping up what they believe is the negative messaging from the surveys. Furthermore, they suggest that — citing the cases of Vietnam and our recent wars — conflicts will go on (and rightly so!) no matter where public opinion is at.

See the rest here

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