Misconnecting with the U.S. Public: Narrative Collapse and U.S. Foreign Policy - Carnegie Council Interim Report

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For the past year, a distinguished working group convened by Carnegie Council's U.S. Global Engagement program has focused on the continuing strengths and weaknesses of the narratives that can be used to support an active U.S. role within the global system. Here are the group's initial conclusions.

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Moving forward, there is a clear need for a renewed public dialogue about the role and purpose of U.S. foreign policy. Here, the operative word is dialogue.

The 2016 primaries and the general election revealed a major blind spot in how changes in the U.S. domestic political and economic systems have altered how Americans perceive and conceptualize U.S. national interests abroad.

It exposed the extent to which the narrative that sustains the variants of "pragmatic internationalism" espoused by both Democratic and Republican administrations has collapsed altogether for a portion of the American electorate, and with many Americans questioning at least some of its basic tenets.

For the past year, the U.S. Global Engagement program (USGE) at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs has focused its attention on the continuing strengths and weaknesses of the narratives that can be used to support an active U.S. role within the global system. These questions have been discussed both within the work of a small study group as well as through a series of focus meetings around the country. This effort has not been designed to lay out a specific policy agenda but instead to address the sources of public discontent with U.S. foreign policy and how new, more sustainable narratives might be crafted.

Here are some of the initial conclusions from the work done by the project in 2018. They are summarized by the Council’s USGE Senior Fellow Nikolas K. Gvosdev, who has been supervising the project.

  • Americans want to amend, not end, their involvement in global affairs.
  • They want to renegotiate some of the terms of American involvement in terms of costs and burden-sharing.
  • They want to revisit the question of how costs and benefits of U.S. engagement will be distributed among the population.
  • They want a balanced approach that navigates between the extremes of isolationism and declaring that 160+ countries in the world are equally vital to U.S. national interests.
  • They want to see a national security community that has the ability to set limits and to say no and to be able to cut losses and move on.

“Moving forward, there is a clear need for a renewed public dialogue about the role and purpose of U.S. foreign policy,” concluded Gvosdev. “Here, the operative word is dialogue. This places a different emphasis on the role of the expert community to shift from providing top-down proposals and solutions to instead facilitate conversations.”

Read the full report here: [https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/articles_papers_reports/20181205-misconnecting-with-us-public-narrative-collapse-and-us-foreign-policy

Members of the U.S. Global Engagement Study Group, 2018

Nikolas Gvosdev, U.S. Naval War College and Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Asha Castleberry, American Security Project
Colin Dueck, George Mason University
Simran Maker, National Committee on American Foreign Policy
Maia Otarashvili, Foreign Policy Research Institute
Joel H. Rosenthal, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Kori Schake, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Tatiana Serafin, Marymount Manhattan College
Devin Stewart, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
John Unger, West Virginia State Senate
Ali Wyne, RAND
(Membership does not imply endorsement of every conclusion drawn in the report. Affiliations are for identification purposes only)

ABOUT CARNEGIE COUNCIL

Founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1914, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an educational, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that produces lectures, publications, and multimedia materials on the ethical challenges of living in a globalized world. Visit http://www.carnegiecouncil.org.

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Madeleine Lynn