From the Center
It’s probably not a good idea to write a column about a topic that isn’t interesting to many people. But even if the war in Ukraine is quickly falling out of the consciousness of the American public, it’s still of critical importance. So I hope you’ll stick around.
But those who do will be in increasingly rarified company. The amount of news coverage about the war has dropped dramatically as we reach the one hundredth day of combat, but public interest seems to be falling even more rapidly. A recent study shows that social media interactions (likes, comments, shares) on news articles about Ukraine have dropped from 109 million in the first week of the war to 4.8 million last week. In other words, the level of social media activity is now less than one-twentieth what it was just over three months ago, which is about one-sixth the interest in stories about the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial.
When the war began, Vladimir Putin made it clear that he believed Western voters would shortly lose interest in Ukraine, which would make it much easier for him to succeed in his military goals. Despite Russia’s early military setbacks, they have been steadily making progress in a battle of attrition across Eastern Ukraine. And as global attention wanes, so will the pressure on world leaders to help Ukraine and punish Russia. The European Union has been mired in internal disputes about embargoes on Russian oil, and most African, Latin American and Asian countries have been avoiding taking sides at all.
Despite widespread support for Ukraine here in the United States, there are pockets of resistance emerging on the ideological fringes of both parties. In the aftermath of mass shootings in New York and Texas last month, many conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill had voiced their concerns that the U.S. was spending taxpayer dollars in Ukraine rather than on school security in this country. Previously, several progressive congressional Democrats voted against sanctions on Russia.
These pockets of opposition are still small, but they reflect a broader and growing ambivalence in this country to the rest of the world. History tells us that the United States tends to turn inward during times of economic discontent and in the aftermath of prolonged overseas military involvement. Isolationist sentiments gained immense political strength in the aftermath of both world wars, Korea and Vietnam, so it shouldn’t be surprising that twenty years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, a real estate collapse, a COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying inflation has left the American people exhausted, with little attention or energy to expend beyond our own borders.
President Biden and his Administration still enjoy strong support from both party’s establishment leaders on Capitol Hill, but U.S. allies openly worry that a Trump-era retrenchment is just one election away. In the meantime, it’s becoming more clear on many other policy fronts that the globalism that has characterized American foreign policy for the past eight decades is in retreat.
Biden’s own recent trip to Japan and South Korea underscored this trend. The White House has consistently emphasized that even given the troubles in Eastern Europe, China remains our country’s greatest international challenge. So Biden’s visit was designed to strengthen U.S. ties on the Pacific Rim, especially through the establishment of expanded economic and diplomatic agreements to counter China’s growing influence. But strong protectionist sentiments back home limited Biden’s options in Asia, and it soon became clear that these new pacts lacked the type of meaningful trade opportunities and market access that other countries want – and that China is willing to provide. The end result of Biden’s tour was measured progress at best, with many Asian countries willing to work with the United States given their wariness toward China, but whispered disappointment that the U.S. wasn’t willing to offer anything more.
The war in Ukraine should be reminding us that when the United States steps back from forceful international engagement, bad actors are strongly incentivized to take our place. But that lesson appears to be lost on a growing number of Americans who just want the rest of the world to go away and leave us alone.
Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, Pepperdine University, and the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in politics, communications and leadership. Dan is a No Party Preference voter, but previously worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns, serving as the national Director of Communications for the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain and the chief media spokesman for California Governor Pete Wilson. He has a Center bias.
This piece was reviewed and edited by Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center bias).
Want to talk about this topic more? Join Dan for his webinar "Politics In The Time of Coronavirus." Or read more of Dan’s writing at: www.danschnurpolitics.com.