Daniel W. Drezner

How do Millennials think about international relations?

I confess that I haven’t yet read all of Robin Marantz Henig’s 8,000 word New York Times Magazine essay on the extended adolescence of twentysomethings because I have a life I need to clip my toenails I don’t care oh, OK, I care a little but I’m too inured to generational politics to read 8,000 words ...

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Getty Images

I confess that I haven’t yet read all of Robin Marantz Henig’s 8,000 word New York Times Magazine essay on the extended adolescence of twentysomethings because I have a life I need to clip my toenails I don’t care oh, OK, I care a little but I’m too inured to generational politics to read 8,000 words on it of a variety of reasons. Instead, I’ve been reading (and enjoying) Peter Beinart’s The Icarus Syndrome:  A History of American Hubris [Hey, what the hell happened to your late summer reading list?–ed. I’ve read some of them, but since I’ve long ago left my twenties, I’ve determined that I’m allowed to discard any leisure book that does hold my interest after thirty pages.]

Henig’s essay and Beinart’s book are linked in that they both are talking about generational cohorts and how their experiences affect their thinking going forward. The Icarus Syndrome follows multiple generations of foreiogn policy thinkers who were seared by formative experiences (mostly wars) and how their initial enthusiasms and/or mistakes colored their foreign policy views going forward. 

I bring this up because I wonder whether the current generation of millennial twentysomethings will develop a worldview about international relations that transcends party and clique. If that happened, it would profoundly shape the contours of American foreign policy starting next decade. 

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. Then again, I’m looking at this through my own irony-drenched Gen-X eyes. 

I’m curious to hear from twentysomethings in the comments — what are the foreign policy lessons that you can draw from your upbringing? I’m also curious what lessons twentysomethings in other countries can draw from their own formative experiences.  

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