"Americans Just Want to Come Home."
Nope. One of the most substantial roadblocks to revitalizing Republican liberal internationalism is the financial and physical fatigue that naturally flows from a decade of war and a corrosive recession. We're tired; we've done too much; we've spent too much in blood and treasure; it's someone else's turn; let's rebuild here at home. Every candidate said it, I have said it, and the American people say it too. Support among independents for an active foreign policy has declined by 15 percentage points in the past decade, according to a poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and a recent Pew Research Center study found that most Americans think the United States should share global leadership with others.
Of course, Obama tried to take advantage of such attitudes. That is where his repeated emphasis on "nation-building here at home" came from. Obama made it clear that education, infrastructure, and manufacturing had to be the priorities going forward. Thus foreign policy was cleverly transformed into a domestic issue: For the United States to be strong abroad, he argued, Americans had to put their own house in order first.
Yet weariness remains one of the great shibboleths of U.S. foreign policy. In reality, Americans continue to support, usually with significant majorities, overseas military operations, at least at their outset. Support for Obama's 2011 decision to intervene in Libya was thinner, but still 10 percentage points above opposition. Even after more than 11 years of conflict, poll after poll finds that Americans support the notion of a U.S. strike to prevent Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon. A February 2012 poll had supporters beating opponents by 18 percentage points.
And it's not just Iran. Obama may want to focus on nation-building at home, but the slow-motion train wreck of the European Union, the fading of democracy in Russia, the war in Syria, the rise of China, North Korean weapons proliferation, the spread of al Qaeda, the continued strength of Chavismo in South America, the war in Afghanistan, and the failure of Pakistan still constitute major security threats.
Republicans understand that those problems aren't going to go away on their own, and so do most Americans.
But it's up to the Republican Party -- and particularly its leadership -- to articulate how it would do better than Obama, how a robust American presence can make a difference in the Middle East, how victory should be the goal in Afghanistan, and how U.S. leadership in the Pacific can constrain Chinese predations. Republicans need to explain how much can be done consistent with America's dearest principles but without the use of force, without threats, without protectionism, and without breaking the bank. They need to work to bring along the many even within the party who doubt the imperative of success against al Qaeda, who doubt the value of friendly governments, and for whom each penny spent on a new fighter for the Air Force or aircraft carrier for the Navy is a penny wasted. You cannot hope to persuade the country if you cannot persuade your own party.
EPA/IRAN'S PRESIDENCY OFFICE