America’s Global Role: An Ongoing Debate

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: While many Americans maintain traditional post-Cold War views on America’s global role, the continued rise of Russia and China, as well as the Trump Administration’s foreign policy, have begun to deepen and sharpen the foreign policy debate.

Since November 2017, the Brookings Institution and the Charles Koch Institute have convened cross-country debates on the question of “America’s global role.” Here, the former takes a step back after two years to summarize the key views that have arisen from these debates.

Americans are wary of international action

The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained the American public as well as the American military. So, while 56 percent of voters view China as a “strategic competitor,” only 13 percent would support military action in the South China Sea. Most Americans would prefer to settle international conflicts with diplomacy.

Strong foreign policy requires healthy domestic investment

This has long been a truism of policy debates, but it has grown more relevant in our globalized society. The strength of the American economy is crucial, both to shore up our strength in the international arena, “but also to reinforce that liberal, market democracies can deliver for all citizens in this moment of authoritarian resurgence.”

The foreign policy debate is changing

President Trump’s strong rhetoric against Iran and North Korea, as well as Russian and Chinese efforts to shore up their militaries and dominate the international sphere, have introduced new dynamics into the traditional foreign policy debate. Both “restrainers” and “interventionists” are finding ways to moderate their positions to better suit this unique geopolitical moment.

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