The Politics of American Foreign Policy

Foreign policy is a key pillar of American politics, generating considerable interest across the ideological spectrum, driving vigorous debates about the nation’s role in the world, and defining the legacies of our presidents. Since the end of World War II, the United States has risen to unparalleled dominance on the global stage, and decisions made in Washington have been instrumental in shaping the trajectory of the entire world.

The current foreign policy pursued by the United States has suffered setbacks and has struggled to achieve key objectives, raising questions about what policies the nation should be pursuing in the 21st century. Increasingly, people are asking: Is the nation’s leadership open to changing course and considering new strategic alternatives, or is there little appetite for a major shift in policy?

Although a largely consistent strategic vision has prevailed since the end of the Cold War, changing demographics suggest that a profound shift in public sentiment is on the way. Millennials, who are slated to become the largest living generation this year, hold views that are markedly different from those of their predecessors when it comes to questions about the United States’ role in the world. This generation is likely to alter the national consensus about how we should behave abroad, and their influence will only grow more pronounced in the coming decades, when they will begin to assume high office.

Please join the Charles Koch Institute for a discussion that will examine the development of U.S. foreign policy from the founding to the present day. Participants will assess the political dynamics of foreign policy debates and explore the growing influence of the millennial generation in shaping U.S. relations with the rest of the world.


Daniel McCarthyEditor, The American Conservative
McCarthy is the editor of The American Conservative. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and former senior editor of ISI Books, the imprint of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, he is a contributor to The Dilemmas of American Conservatism, from the University Press of Kentucky. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Spectator, Reason, Independent Review, and a variety of other publications. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.


Michael C. DeschProfessor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
Michael Desch is an expert on U.S. foreign and national security policies. His current research focuses on how to bridge the gap between academic research and policymaking. He is the co-author, with Kenneth Michael Absher and Roman Popadiuk, of Privileged and Confidential: The Secret History of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the author of Power and Military Effectiveness: The Fallacy of Democratic TriumphalismWhen the Third World Matters: Latin America and United States Grand Strategy, and Civilian Control of the Military: The Changing Security Environment. Desch has served on the staff of a U.S. senator, as an intelligence analyst at the U.S. Department of State, and as a national defense analyst at the Congressional Research Service.

William RugerVice President for Research, Charles Koch Institute and Foundation
William Ruger serves as the vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute and the vice president for research at the Charles Koch Foundation. Before coming to the Institute, he was most recently an associate professor at Texas State University. Ruger earned his doctorate in politics from Brandeis University and bachelor’s in government from the College of William and Mary. His work has appeared in International Studies QuarterlyCivil Wars, and Armed Forces and Society, among other outlets. He is also the author of a biography on Milton Friedman and co-author of Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom. Ruger is a veteran of the Afghanistan War.

A. Trevor ThrallSenior Fellow, Cato Institute
Trevor Thrall is a senior fellow for the Cato Institute’s defense and foreign policy department. Thrall is an associate professor at George Mason University in the department of public and international affairs and is the director of the graduate program in biodefense. He teaches courses on international security, political communication, and U.S. military intervention. His recently edited books include American Foreign Policy and the Politics of Fear: Threat Inflation Since 9/11 and Why Did the United States Invade Iraq? Prior to arriving at George Mason, Dr. Thrall was an associate professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he directed the Master of Public Policy and Master of Public Administration programs. He received his doctorate in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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