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Parlor Talk: The Average American's Foreign Policy Interests

Posted by Kyle Baranko on June 10, 2015 at 12:00 PM

American public opinion drives politics and greatly influences our position on the world stage. National interest in foreign policy determines involvement in global conflict and has been responsible for both fantastic achievements and utter ineptitude throughout modern history. The scope of American power is often the main subject of debate when dictating the ideal level of involvement in affairs overseas; in contemporary politics, we have labeled representatives as either “hawks” or “doves” depending on their willingness to use force. As the world embarks on the first leg of the 21st-century journey, the United States finds itself in a state of hesitation. With several obvious failures in the Middle East, many question America’s ability to promote peace and establish freedom in an increasingly tumultuous region. This crisis, coupled with China’s rising bid for global hegemony, is making the foreign policy debate as divisive as ever.

There are several current standoffs that should be the focal point of the foreign policy discussion during the upcoming Presidential election. Russian meddling in Ukraine, Chinese aggression in the Pacific, and ISIS atrocities in Iraq are currently the biggest threats to American security and the source of much tension in the global community. However, the candidates must be careful when outlining their policy plans. The key to a successful run for President is to understand popular opinion and to tell the voters what they want to hear. After the dreadful and immensely unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Senator Obama built his foreign policy plans around withdrawing from both conflicts. He knew one of his biggest advantages over his adversary was that he originally voted against the war in Iraq, flaunting a more cautious, dove-like approach to our problems overseas. Senator McCain, a known hawk, fell victim to the drifting national interest. Eight years later, the terms have been reshuffled with an almost completely new set of issues. How will the 2016 frontrunners play their hands?

Our generation has an intense, and sometimes irrational, fear of terrorism. Despite the significant security threats posed by Russia and China, most anxiety rests in the Middle East. The attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 sent America into frenzy and on a witch hunt for radical Islamists that inevitably led to this volatile region. After the initial wave of patriotism fizzled out because of limited success in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama correctly read the average American’s psyche and promised to end both conflicts. However, because of a combination of our negligence and fundamental regional tensions, the Middle East again erupted into civil war and sprouted terrorist nests all over the area. ISIS swarmed across northern Iraq and unoccupied territory in Syria. The group directly provoked America, and still routinely threatens its citizens with violence today. What do we want our future President to do about it?

The hawks are going to eagerly and steadily promote security. ISIS is a monster and incredibly dangerous; the best way to erase that monster is to step up bombing campaigns and efforts to destroy its lair. However, this strategy may prove difficult considering the complications surrounding American popular opinion. Wary of previous military failures, voters will probably be hesitant to put boots on the ground even if it is the only way to completely defeat the enemy. Presidential candidates must walk a fine line when highlighting their plans to combat the terrorist group; one slip in the wrong direction could lead to political disaster.

United States involvement in the Middle East as a whole is quite a puzzle. Again, there is a fine line between necessary interests and futile projects. At the core of every conflict in the region is the Shia-Sunni struggle for power. With two regional powers fighting proxy wars in every state of anarchy available, it has somewhat of a Cold War, democratic-communist type of feel to it. However, this fundamental source of tension is religious, not political. How can a foreign superpower with minimal Islamic interests possibly stop a centuries-old struggle for spiritual power? These civil wars create terrible humanitarian crises and breed terrorism, a threat to our homeland security; but to what extent is it possible to stop? Solving this problem is the key to deciphering current, and future, national interest. Whichever candidate figures it out first will probably win the race.

ISIS is the most popular security threat and willingly captures the media’s attention with repeated violent provocations, including beheadings. At the core of the issue is the overall regional struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. I think soon, the average voter will conclude that consistent military engagement in the region is hopeless. Iran hates ISIS as much as we do and will take care of this most obvious threat. Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist who is an expert in Middle East affairs, argues that the best strategy is to simply “wait for the fires to burn themselves out.” Directly fighting terrorism has not worked, and the best way to protect American interests is to stop the futile attempt at externally providing stability. Realistically, our next President will understand these problems and promote a policy of leaving the fires to extinguish themselves. However, he or she will also promote supporting those few Muslim states and groups of people who are ready to embrace modernity and put aside their issues for the greater good.

Categories: Culture: Anthropology

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