I would argue that U.S. policymakers have an opportunity here — to re-engage with their constituents, at a time when the American public’s outlook appears better-suited to the fraught geopolitical realities of the current moment.
Failing to do so brings great risks. When policymakers ignore public opinion—and its sustainability—they leave citizens to accept costs and hazards that can’t be maintained over time while simultaneously eroding their trust. Furthermore, when foreign policy is pursued without significant public support, foreign governments perceive the United States as a less dependable and predictable partner; foreign enemies see potential divisions to be exploited. And without consideration of public opinion we’re bound to see fewer fresh policy ideas. As the report points out, “intelligent and thoughtful proposals to decrease defense spending or reevaluate the War on Terror are dismissed as outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.”
The result of this myopic view of foreign policy possibilities can be costly—in blood, treasure, and international political good will. But the larger cost of ignoring U.S. public opinion in favor of an elite consensus that lacks sustainable public backing may well be to American democracy.