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Cloudy with a Chance of Conflict

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
December 24, 2013
ForeignPolicy.com

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After 12 years of war, 6,711 troops killed, and costs to taxpayers projected to be at least $4 trillion, Americans' message to the White House and Capitol Hill is loud and clear: less involvement abroad (for now). In a December poll conducted by Pew Research and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), 52 percent of Americans said the United States "should mind its own business internationally," the highest percentage since that question was first asked in 1964. This hesitancy is prevalent throughout America -- even as its friends want Uncle Sam's bombs and missiles to lead from the front. In a September Ipsos Global @dvisor poll administered in 15 countries (all U.S. allies or partners), 28 percent of all respondents supported U.S.-led military action in Syria; among Americans alone, support was lower at 27 percent. Nevertheless, there is limited public appetite for deeper U.S. military engagement in the world's problems.

Given the limited tolerance among Americans for brokering regional or global disputes -- and diminishing appropriated resources -- how can U.S. officials focus their time and attention on the most urgent and important sources of conflict or instability? Unfortunately, despite all the early warning analysis done throughout the U.S. government, there is no systematic process to forecast potentially threatening developments that could require direct U.S. diplomatic or military involvement. Nor is there a routine system for bringing such information to the attention of senior officials in a timely manner.

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