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A recent (November 29) Pew Research Center poll on public attitudes toward foreign policy issues was a classic good news/bad news story – at least if you believe that the top priority of American foreign policy should be to promote the security and well-being of the American people.

On the one hand, that’s pretty much what the results show – that’s the good news. On the other hand, these commonsense positions prevail overwhelmingly because adults viewing themselves as either Republicans or Republican leaners hold them. That’s the bad news.  In other words, the views of Democrats and those leaning Democratic reveal a marked disregard for their nation’s self-preservation and prosperity.

According to Pew, 72 percent of all Americans say that “taking measures to protect the U.S. from terrorism” should “be a top foreign policy priority,” 71 percent would assign the same priority to “protecting jobs of American workers,” and 66 percent regard “preventing the spread” of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) with similar urgency.

But now check out the partisan splits: On the terrorism issue, fully 84 percent of Republicans and their leaners regard it as a top foreign policy priority. Only 61 percent of Democrats and their leaners agree. So much, i.e., for the idea that Americans will never forget September 11. And remember – the question only described protection from terrorism as a top priority, not the top foreign policy priority.

On protecting American workers’ jobs, 81 percent of Republicans and their leaners would treat it as a priority, versus only 65 percent of Democrats and their leaners. I’m old enough to remember when the Democrat called themselves the party of working Americans.

The exception here is preventing the spread of WMD: Fewer (64 percent of Republicans and their leaners see it as a major priority than do Democrats and their leaners (68 percent), but these results are very close.

Many of the other Pew poll findings are not the slightest bit surprising. Principally, the biggest partisan divides on foreign policy issues come on “dealing with global climate change,” “reducing illegal immigration into the U.S.,” and “maintaining U.S. military advantage over all other countries.”

But here’s what’s more surprising. The Democrats, and especially their leaders, have enthusiastically assumed the mantle of globalism champions versus President Trump’s proclaimed America First approach. And a hallmark of globalism, whether on the right or the left ends of the national political spectrum, has been international activism. Liberals and conservatives generally disagree on where to place the emphasis (e.g., emerging transnational issues like climate change and migration versus more traditional security-oriented issues), but energetic engagement is favored by all.

Nonetheless, if you look carefully at the Pew results, Democrats and their leaners would place the “top priority” label on relatively few foreign policy issues. Indeed, only one such candidate for this status reaches the 70 percent mark with these groups – “improving relationships with allies.” And only four issues are seen as top priorities by 60 or more percent of Democrats and their leaners – as stated above, WMD (68 percent), protecting American jobs (65 percent), climate change (64 percent) and terrorism (61 percent). 

Overall, then, it’s easy to conclude from these and other findings in the Pew poll that Democrats and their leaners may be globalists, but they’re globalists who don’t seem to regard overseas-related challenges with overwhelming concern. Alternatively, they’re reluctant to support zeroing in on a limited (and arguably more manageable) set of goals. P.S., the relatively low score for climate change seems especially noteworthy given the importance progressive Democrats and others relatively far to the Left have attached to the idea of a “Green New Deal.”

It’s even easier to conclude that Republicans and their leaners are more committed to an America First-type approach. And it looks like this commitment is somewhat stronger. Their highest priority foreign policy issues are the aforementioned terrorism and job protection – where their priority scores are in the 80s percent. And their next three priorities are maintaining a national military edge (70 percent), reducing illegal immigration (68 percent), and preventing WMD spread (64 percent). For good measure, “getting other countries to assume more of the costs of maintaining world order” comes in at 56 percent.

However revealing these Pew results, they still left out two of the biggest questions for politicians and others trying to surmise which approaches to U.S. foreign policy, and what specific initiatives, would garner the most and least public support. The first is how genuine political independents view these issues. The second is how high a priority is assigned to preventing a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland.

The importance attached to halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction points to great concern about this challenge. But the strong support expressed by Democrats and their leaners for shoring up America’s alliance relations indicates an especially serious lack of awareness on their part that indiscriminately extending nuclear umbrellas over U.S. allies has greatly increased the odds of such attack (principally from the newish NATO commitments to the highly vulnerable Baltic states, and the longstanding commitment to protect South Korea from North Korea and its new nuclear capabilities).

Of course, these Americans can’t entirely be blamed for this knowledge gap, as both U.S. leaders and the mainstream media continue to work overtime to mask the – growing – nuclear war risks inherent in the nation’s alliance system. (President Trump has been only a partial exception.) Hopefully 2019 will see some explicit, intellectually honest discussion of these dangers – and well before they reach critical mass.

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