March 15, 2016

HABR | On Foreign Policy and the Presidential Elections

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Like it or not, the president of the U.S. is effectively the president of the world, and the government’s decisions, ranging from economic to foreign policy, tremendously affect a multitude of other countries. I do not mean to deny the agency of other leaders around the world nor the power of people’s voices. However, it is true that the American presidency affects most people around the world almost as much as it affects Americans — the only difference is we don’t get to vote. With this great impact comes responsibility, not only for leaders making crucial decisions, but also for the general populace, who must consider critically the actions of their country and the politicians they are electing.

The ramifications of the U.S. elections on the rest of the world are large. When it comes to foreign policy, the U.S., as a major superpower, plays a huge role in the world. In the Middle East specifically, there are many issues to be dealt with. First and foremost is tackling the growth of ISIS and the death and carnage they have left behind as they prey on unstable areas (arguably caused by U.S. intervention). Second, the U.S. has to deal with the rising tensions and proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran, navigating its ties with its Saudi allies with its new position after nuclear talks with Iran. Peace seems unlikely as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also remains deadlocked and has given rise to a recent bout of violence in the face of continued occupation and oppression.

However, foreign policy, while addressed frequently in debates (especially on the Republican side) is only regarded and evaluated in its effects on and benefits to the U.S. This is fine, since the U.S. elections are for the U.S. president, but it often seems that constituents don’t really realize that the words politicians say have real effects on people’s lives.

The election so far has been dominated by hyper-masculine rhetoric, such as Jeb Bush’s gun tweet and basically everything Donald Trump says, much of which would be amusing if it wasn’t terrifying. Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) quote about the Middle East: “I’m going to carpet bomb [ISIS] into oblivion … I don’t know if sand glows in the dark but I’m going to find out,” sounds like a cheesy line from the villain of a bad movie — except it’s real and, at this point, a possibility. Even Hillary Clinton holds similar views, disguising her war-hawk policies as a progressive feminist agenda, though her campaign stands for nothing more than equal opportunity imperialism, allowing women to be just as complicit in patriarchal acts of masculinity and violence.

The reality is that there is likely nothing the U.S. can do to fix the complex issues in the Middle East (and it is debatable that that should be its responsibility), and this rhetoric is often just used to pander to people’s anger and gain votes. However, there are actual tangible effects to these policies and rants and actual innocent civilians who will needlessly die. Many people support these aggressive policies, which appeal to lofty ideas of defending America, without thinking of the actual people whose lives they will affect.

This indifference is epitomized by the contradiction between popular jokes about moving to Canada if Donald Trump is elected and popular opinion that is suspicious of refugees fleeing war and terror. Those seeking refuge are interrogated, harassed and distrusted. Undocumented immigrants are deported back to their deaths and the people who can joke about escaping Donald Trump and his plan to “build a wall” are those privileged enough to be unaffected by it. It is a subconscious hypocrisy — when populations are othered, they become dehumanized. Americans who joke about moving to Canada yet refuse Syrian refugees and support deportation of immigrants fail to humanize others and afford them the same rights and respect as they feel they themselves deserve.

It is frustrating for many of us from other countries to hear this violent rhetoric without being able to do anything about it or vote. We can only encourage others to be aware, to think about who they are voting for and consequently the policies and stances they are supporting. In an election where foreign policy ranges from wildly violent and destruction at worst to almost no policy at best, prospects for the future can be frustrating and feel somewhat hopeless. It is important for people to push their politicians, to speak out and make their voices heard. Although it seems this election won’t improve current state of world affairs, hopefully the results will not be disastrous.

Katy Habr is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell. Comments may be sent to kh547@cornell.edu. On the Margin runs alternate Wednesdays  this semester. 

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