Since I moved to Foreign Policy, the blog post that generated the most feedback was my impressionistic take on the Millennial generation's foreign policy perspectives. I concluded that post on whether generaional cohorts would have distinct foreign policy attitudes with the following:
As I think about it, here are the Millennials' foundational foreign policy experiences:
1) An early childhood of peace and prosperity -- a.k.a., the Nineties;
2) The September 11th attacks;
3) Two Very Long Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq;
4) One Financial Panic/Great Recession;
5) The ascent of China under the shadow of U.S. hegemony.
From these experiences, I would have to conclude that this generation should be anti-interventionist to the point of isolationism.
There was a LOT of very thoughtful pushback in the comments and e-mails from Millennials themselves -- enough for me to wonder whether my jaded Gen-Xer eyes were growing too world-weary.
Now, however, we actually have some data. The Brookings Institution has released a new report, "D.C.'s New Guard: What Does the Next Generation of American Leaders Think?" The survey results came from 1,057 respondents (with a average age of 16.4) who attended the National Student Leadership Conference, Americans for Informed Democracy young leaders programs, and other DC internships -- i.e., those young people already predisposed towards a political career.
The results are veeeeery revealing. The headline figure is that 73% of respondents think that "The U.S. is no longer globally respected" -- which actually suggests that the respondents haven't been looking at the data, but that's a side note. No, the really interesting response is as follows:
[A]lmost 58% of the young leaders in this survey agreed with the statement that the U.S. is too involved in global affairs and should do more at home. Alternatively, 32.4% thought the U.S. had "struck the right balance" between issues at home and abroad," while only 10% thought that the United States should be more globally proactive.
This isolationist sentiment among the younger generation stands in stark comparison to the Chicago Council's recent 2010 polling of older Americans, which found that 67% wanted America to have an active role in the world and only 31% thought we should limit our involvement, a near exact reverse. The older generation survey concluded that there was "persisting support for an internationalist foreign policy at levels unchanged from the past," but this perceived persistence is certainly not there among the young leaders (emphasis added).
Now, to be fair, It is possible to reconcile beliefs that the United States is doing too much abroad now while still believing that the U.S. should exert global leadership, but on a more modest scale. Still, I'm counting this as a clear win over the young people insisting that my impressionistic take on their generation was wrong. Take that, Bieberheads!!!
[Hey, I just noticed this paragraph by P.W. Singer at the start of the report:
In 2011, a “silver tsunami” will hit the United States: the oldest Baby Boomers will reach the United States’ legal retirement age of 65. As the Boomers leave the scene, a new generation will begin to take over. But while the generation that directly follows the Boomers, Generation X, may be “of age”, there is a good chance that it will not actually shape public life and leadership as much the following generation, the Echo Boomers, also known as the “Millennials." (emphasis added)
Say, could that swipe at your generation explain your attitude in this post?--ed.]
No!! Really!! It has nothing to do with that! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to lock myself into a dark room and watch Reality Bites on an endless loop for the next 24 hours.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.