A Short Primer on American Preferences in Foreign Policy

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

The American public largely seems to approve of President Obama’s specific foreign policy choices. They want to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan; they don’t want to go to war in Syria; they don’t want troops on the ground in Ukraine; and they support serious negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.

And yet, paradoxically, they don’t think much of Obama’s foreign policy in the aggregate. Overall approval ratings for his foreign policy are stuck at roughly George W. Bush levels. What’s going on?

With the benefit of my vast experience reading the mood of the American public, I’d like to explain what’s going on. This should save our nation’s pundits millions of windy words trying to invent sophisticated explanations that make them look smart. Here it is:

The American public really likes short, decisive wars that the United States wins conclusively. A couple of weeks is good. A month or two is pretty much the outside limit.

That’s it! Now you understand foreign policy. Grenada: good! Panama: good! Gulf War: not bad! Kosovo: pushing it. Iraq: horrible. Syria and other places where we fail to intervene at all: massive cognitive dissonance. War is bad! But we want to kick the bad guys in the butt! Does not compute! President is failing….failing….failing….

This has been a public service announcement. Are there any questions?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend