Do Americans really want to disengage from the world?

The proliferation of crises around the globe has, for the most part, been met with a yawn from the political class. Americans, they say, are tired of being the world’s policeman. Most media and political elite believe Americans are happy to let the world can sort out it affairs for now.

They are not entirely wrong. “Americans in large numbers want the U.S. to reduce its role in world affairs even as a showdown with Russia over Ukraine preoccupies Washington,” an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in April found. “In a marked change from past decades, nearly half of those surveyed want the U.S. to be less active on the global stage, with fewer than one-fifth calling for more active engagement—an anti-interventionist current that sweeps across party lines.”

Americans got what they asked for, and Washington retreated from the world stage even as the war in Ukraine grew more violent, Iraq and Syria witnessed the rise of ISIS, and violence in a series of Central American nations precipitated an exodus of migrants who streamed across America’s southern border.

While Americans may have welcomed the dual policies of disengagement and retrenchment, they sure don’t seem to like the results of those policies. Another NBC News/WSJ poll released on Tuesday indicates that Americans are not happy with the level of disengagement displayed by the American government in the face of a number of pressing threats to global security.

WSJ poll

Respondents were asked about a series of crises; the war in Europe, an attack on a commercial airliner by Russian separatists, the civil war in Syria, the war in Gaza, ISIS’s rise to power in the Fertile Crescent, and the crisis on the southern border. Pluralities in all cases were dissatisfied with the United States’ level of involvement in those crises.

When asked what American policy they would prefer to see, many said that they were unfamiliar with or had no opinion on those particular matters. Among those who were familiar with those crises, however, the consensus is clear: America is “not involved enough” in world affairs.

Americans may like the theories of disengagement and retrenchment, but they do not seem especially fond of them in practice. While Americans are war-weary and cautious about reengaging in global affairs after a decade of conflict, they are also apprehensive about increasing global instability. An electorate plagued by anxiety about the state of foreign affairs is usually not predisposed to vote for the status quo. Maybe after Americans vent their unease at the polls, the political class will wake up to the fact that Americans are plagued by fears, not just about their own country, but for the world.