Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Forgotten Foreign Affairs During the Presidential Elections

In America during an election year, reality almost feels a bit warped. Recent bombardment of party conventions and radio and TV ads designed to grab voter attention have kept most Americans in an almost constant state of party euphoria. Campaign promises--both big and small--add to this intoxication. It is hoped that, while swept up it in all, likely voters will amass the polls and cast their vote for the future leadership of the United States of America, with party leaders hoping for the best outcomes for their candidates. Topping the list of concerns Americans have, according to a recent poll, are the economy, health care, government ethics and taxes. At the bottom are the War on Terror and Afghanistan. Domestic issues almost always dominate public dialogue around election time, but are foreign affairs unfairly sidelined? After all, the U.S. is one of few countries able to shape the world around it, and our presidential candidates have wildly different approaches to American foreign policy. So while Obama and Romney bicker over how they're going to 'fix' the recovering economy, since that issue appeals to most voters, huge foreign policy stances are being deliberately overlooked and marginalized in a time of greater globalization, the rise of Chinese and Indian economies, climate change and revolution across the Arab world. Voters, pay attention.

Caricature by Magnus Manske

Although Obama has rejected arming the Syrian rebels, reports confirm that in fact the CIA has been steering weapons to the Syrian opposition, and UN proposals for intervention have proved futile with Chinese and Russian vetoes. For now, it seems Obama's policy regarding Syria is to favor multilateral intervention and to unwillingly allow the conflict play out, even as the International Committee of the Red Cross has reported a deteriorating humanitarian situation there. Unable to pursue an intervention like the one in Libya, Obama has been blocked from a similar feat in Syria and by default has allowed diplomacy to fail for far too long. Romney, on the other hand, advocates isolating Syria economically and diplomatically as well as partnering with Turkey and Saudi Arabia to persuade Syrian forces to protect civilians, not attack them. If that sounds unfeasible to anyone, it's because it probably is. Brownie points for wanting to work with the neighbors, though.

Two-state solution or unconditional support? President Obama has a cold stance toward our greatest ally in the Middle East. His infamous mistrust enlightens Obama's attitude toward the leader and his policies. President Obama is definitely worried about getting entangled in foreign messes that might fall on the U.S. to clean up, especially since the recent deterioration of relations between Israel and Iran. Obama has been careful to assert his support for Israel within the context of limited American engagement in any issue that arises. Obama has pledged his support of a preemptive Israeli military strike only if Iran builds a bomb. Romney, representing the general Republican consensus, advocates unconditional support for Israel, even in the event that Prime Minister Netanyahu decides to preemptively attack Iranian nuclear enrichment sites under the suspicion of nuclear capability. The prevailing and implicit understanding of Israel's importance to the Republicans is that Israel must stay strong as the beacon of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, especially since American military presence there is proving less and less effective. But is this beacon really shining the light of democracy over the Middle East or is the Middle East and North Africa fighting for the change that will suit them best? Is democracy one size fits all? How come undemocratic monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Morocco remain stable? Is Israel really setting an example or are they seen as an unwelcome proxy of the United States? The implications of the U.S. presidential election could prove monumental for the Middle East, especially if Israel strikes Iran before election day. Or perhaps the race will decide whether or not Israel will take preemptive military action, with a Romney election raising the chances of an Israeli strike and an American back-up. 

Throughout his presidency and hopefully continued in a second term, Obama has refrained from the outdated Cold War mentality. He's pushed for mutual nuclear weapons reductions and negotiations on the removal of strategic missile sites aimed at Russia. On the other hand, Romney has strongly opposed negotiating a reduction in nuclear stockpiles and in fact sees Russia as a major threat to U.S. interests abroad. He proposes increasing missile defense as an act of deterring Russia from interfering with American geopolitical and economic interests. So the choice is pretty clear. While Obama favors a warming of relations (at least on the security front) with Russia by reducing nuclear stockpiles, Romney sees Russia as a caged animal that could wreak havoc on the world America helped create. The threat of Russia with less nuclear weapons is far less than an America with more missile defenses. 

Americans have a tough decision to make this election season. And their decision may very well dictate the immediate evolution of world politics.

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