Public Opinion: Foreign Policy and the MAGA Movement

Understanding The Public Opinion Around MAGA

Clausewitz describes in his thoughts on war the importance of Trinity, which, in a basic interpretation, can mean the government or political objectives, the military objectives to support political objectives, and finally the population to support all objectives. The more emotive the population towards the political objective, the more effective the action taken will be. It is because of that fact that understanding public opinion around the MAGA movement is vital.

Public Opinion and Foreign Policy

The reluctance of the U.S. to commit itself to the first world war was due to both the divided nature of the population, with many groups having allegiance to different sides, and the seeming lack of motive. The conflict did not affect the U.S. A variety of different factors served to change the opinion. The Zimmerman telegram and the subsequent unrestricted submarine warfare against American ships insured that in three years, American public opinion has shifted from non-intervention to war and, a year later, troops were landing in Western Europe.

Given the losses suffered and the horrors endured by all, it is no wonder that when, 20 years later, a second world war developed, and again America was reluctant to commit itself to such a conflict. In the interim, the population had been hit by social problems and a severe economic crisis. Domestic policy focus on public opinion was a priority. The entry into the war was not triggered by the Western front, but a direct challenge to the East by Japan. Similar to the First World War, public opinion only got behind conflict once there was a direct impact on the population.

In both of these cases, it is clearly demonstrated that there is a culture of no intervention until directly threatened. This follows a more realist international relations theory of actions based on self-interest. This part of the cycle, also known as the ‘Jacksonian’ tradition, usually affects the country in times of both domestic issues taking precedence and a lack of perceived requirement of America in the international system.

This can be equated to American perceptions of the domestic problems amongst the population, with issues such as the economy, immigration, and societal change. America, in the international system, has been met with criticism and complaint. Her allies have not shown themselves willing to support it, and all international action has been met with harsh attitudes.

Learn From History

It cannot be expected that, from these two points, American public opinion on foreign policy is particularly positive. In fact, it could be argued this is the primary reason for the divergence of public opinion with current global foreign policy. Just as WWI and WWII can be grouped into a public opinion reacting to direct attack on U.S. interests, the Cold War, and Unipolar moment conflicts can be grouped together as the opposite.

The Cold War was both ideological and conducted via proxy; however, what is more important to recognize is the way in which public opinion was swayed into supporting foreign policy. The ideology of communism was and is lamentable, but as ideological struggle got pushed on the American public, there was a higher will to commit to conflicts to defend against communism. This meant after almost half a century of reluctant reactionary conflict; the American population finally supported a more proactive stance of defending American interests.

This change in the population’s support was to stay long into the Unipolar moment, with the only exception being the failures of Vietnam. The Unipolar moment was a period of history in the post-Soviet world in which the Berlin Wall had collapsed, and the U.S. became the sole superpower in the world. Due to having this power, the U.S. was seen, both internally and externally, as almost having sole responsibility for intervention in global disputes. This paradigm coincided with the need for NATO to redirect its focus, given the confrontation vacuum the fall of the USSR had left.

Iraq and Afghanistan, as conflicts, were presented to the population as both reactionary to an attack, and for the sake of perpetuating values to a part of the world without such values. This encompassing view ended with massive support for the Iraq war (approximately 60-70% according to YouGov). The failures of the post-conflict Iraq war only served to turn America inward as it looked to cease trying to affect a world it could not seem to influence.

Moving Forward

Understanding public opinion of the American position in the international system is pivotal to explaining a part of the MAGA movement. International attitudes to the U.S. are plummeting, and the U.S. sees no reciprocation for many of the actions it takes to ensure the safety and security of values internationally.

It is no wonder that, due to this, Americans feel that the world is not repaying their actions and, as such, should look to benefit themselves rather than others. Making America great was always going to revolve around fixing the many domestic problems while maintaining a strong military to remind the international system of continued American power.

On foreign policy, Trump campaigned essentially a non-interventionist strategy, withdrawing from multilateral agreements and looking to remove the ISIS problem while lowering U.S. presence in the Middle East. His objectives of revitalizing the military are meant to consolidate American power as these domestic issues were fixed.

MAGA Through Strength

This strength would allow the U.S. to once again take up the mantle of being reactionist, maintaining perceptions of U.S. power to deter threats while refocusing on domestic issues. A return to reactionism not only counters the failures that interventionism felt but offers the potential for success. It must be noted, however, that this is a short-term strategy, while domestic politics need to be focused on.

In the long term, American strategy and public opinion must allow itself to change in order to maintain U.S. power and the security of its citizens. By understanding the desire to look inwards, the MAGA foreign policy finds its home; that of a country looking to both fix and improve itself and, at the same time, demonstrating to the world that any challenge will be met with force.

Ray Jones / Writer

I am a Proud Patriot. I have a degree in History and International Law with an interest in anthropology. I aim to make Americans realize their greatness!
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  1. IT's a meaty article. Some commentary:
    (1) Public perception and fervor has been a necessary element for the American people due to several other issues, not the least of which is "sea to shining sea" - that is, being separate from the global conflicts, and bounded on both sides by relatively benign neighbor nations. Thus, there is an expected and desired isolationism, which is probably innately higher in liberals than conservatives, the former being more prone to inconvenience over logical conflict.
    (2) Whether reactionary conflict is better or worse than interventionism is a matter of history but ALSO a matter of military strategy. The end of World War 2 came by overwhelming force of troops in Europe, atom bombs in Japan, and a sweeping out of straggler Japanese in the Pacific. After World War 2, there was peacetime intervention in both Germany and Japan which kept their military regrowth at bay. One of the failures of WW2 was the alliance with Stalin, made by two elder statesmen in their last days. Could interventionism have avoided the Cold War? Probably not. But Joe McCarthy and anticommunism in the United States made great strides towards securing American culture, and only public perception of McCarthyism brought this necessary purging to an end, the result of which was the communists won the perception war, the 1960's ensued, and so forth (I am simplifying here for space).
    (3) Donald Trump does not represent a return to FDR's resolve because America is not demographically the same. Neither is it to Eisenhower for the same reason. Neither is it to Kennedy for the same reason. Neither is it to Reagan for the same reason. Instead, we have a President who is threading the needle between a firm socialism on the Left and a rightly-outraged Right. Trump tends to strength and open plainness, which in times past would've caused him to be celebrated, but in this neo-socialist age, with public opinion often shaped by technology devised by Leftists for just that purpose, Trump is somewhat blunted. Imagine what he could do if the Right owned Twitter and Facebook, ABC and Disney! Or perhaps Trump is the product of such extreme Leftism in reactionary form. While difficult to say, I have great hope for the future now, and I say that with all the patriotism that allows.

  2. What will need to change in the long term? If we strictly focus on building up our military, economic dominance, technology, and innovation we will be the World super power for decades to come. The time for policing the world must end. Anyone who threatens us must be punished severely. The idea that we must solve everyone else's problems needs to end.

  3. Very nicely done Ray. Couldn’t agree more with your synopsis. President Trump is doing exactly what you’ve outlined for those very reasons. The World policing is coming to an end while building partnerships with other nations instead of unilateral nation-building will be our new Modus Operandi. As a Combat Vet I’m very excited that under POTUS45 there is a real possibility of never deploying our National Treasures (Sons and Daughters) to unilaterally stop evil. Increasing our Military Strength by sharpening capabilities, enabling capacity, embracing newer technologies, eliminating waste and inefficiencies will thrust the U.S. to our rightful status of unparalleled Super Power. Not to mention the World will be a much better place as we will soon see with NOKO and eventually with a Free Iran.

  4. Ray this is a great article but like Tommy said meaty. I agree that WWWI & II were reactionary measures. We have been involved since then in conflicts we have had no business in whatsoever. We need to restore our house before we tell others how to run theirs. There are many who could argue that most of not all conflicts were the result of elites pulling strings behind the curtains and the world dancing on the stage at their behest, but I digress.

    Good article!


  5. We the People, public support of the Declared Independence we enjoy today. Public support carries the burden no matter how heavy for the nation to persevere. A United front that gives power to actions of our governing body, We the People. MAGA a rallying cry for Patriots and an alarm to awaken the sleeping Giant once again to defeat an "unbeatable foe" ISIS, human trafficking, abortion, in the the process of preserving our Republic. To Dream the Impossible Dream...Great article. I dig the perspective YUGELY!




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