This article first appeared on the Ethics & International Affairs blog.
One of the criticisms that the U.S. Global Engagement project has received over the past year is the assessment that we are assigning too much weight to those Americans who have expressed dissatisfaction with the level of American involvement in world affairs—and that this is primarily concentrated among one segment of voters who cast ballots for Donald Trump in 2016. The implication is that support for the position that the United States must take robust action to defend and expand the "liberal rules-based international order" is the default position for a majority of Americans, and certainly of members of the Democratic party.
Bruce Jentleson's essay in the fall 2019 issue of Democracy ("Right-Sizing Foreign Policy") is the latest sign that the concerns that the U.S. Global Engagement project has been tracking cross political lines. Echoing the core theme of the 2018 interim report ("Misconnecting with the American Public: Narrative Collapse and U.S. Foreign Policy") Jentleson calls for "a better narrative for America's global role." His assessment of a progressive retooling of the U.S. foreign policy approach endorses the proposition that the Carnegie Council study group has reached, that the U.S. needs to amend, not end, its role in international affairs, and that it needs to better connect foreign policy with domestic concerns.
Jentleson's recommendations for a progressive foreign policy combine aspects of emerging narratives that the study group has been tracking—the democratic community theme, the central organizing principle of climate change, and the importance of "doorstep" issues.
That the narrative is changing on both sides of the aisle is also confirmed by Peter Beinart's latest piece in The Atlantic ("Has the Presidency Skipped Generation X?"). While focused primarily on domestic issues, Beinart chronicles the "ideological earthquake" that has caused both Republicans and Democrats to move away from and repudiate positions that were considered mainstream only a few years back. Free trade and "forward engagement," two key precepts of the U.S. approach to international affairs, are now both under strain from both sides of the political aisle.
The narrative about America's role in the world is changing—and more evidence is accumulating that suggests that no matter how the 2020 presidential and Congressional elections turn out, there is no turning the clock back to a pre-2016 status quo.