The inner-nerd was pounding out of my chest the night of the presidential foreign policy debate, and sadly, domestic issues, although prevalent, completely hijacked my moment. US Foreign Policy is incredibly intricate and interesting, and right now, we are experiencing a paradigm shift in our perception of global events. Before we explore that, let’s look briefly at what’s going on around the world.
Syria: It took long enough and thousands of innocent deaths to really get any mainstream media play, but finally the growing conflict in Syria seems to be garnishing more public recognition. I sat in a discussion about Syria roughly a year ago, and listened to experts explain the horrible atrocities being committed by the Assad-led government forces against protesting civilians in the wake of the Arab Spring. Since then, the conflict has grown and expanded into a more complicated picture. After failed attempts of unifying the opposition into a single representative umbrella-esque body, finally the factions of the revolution have unified after international pressure was exerted. As of today, there were various reports that the rebel fighters had captured a key government air base, which could play a decisive role as this bloody conflict unravels. Air assaults by the government forces on rebel cities that rarely differentiate between civilian and fighters have been the tactic utilized that has primarily stopped an overall takeover by rebel forces. This may play a crucial part in what ultimately decides the role as Assad forces begin to consolidate militarily around crucial, strategic areas. The US and other Western countries are wary of the situation, and are ultimately tip-toeing around the situation with caution due to a key reason that the new “unified” opposition attempts to alleviate: Who is the opposition? Islamic radicals, foreign fighters, Syrian exiles, and rebelling civilians all play a role in the fighting and the US is undoubtedly concerned that all-out support may benefit those who intend to do us harm. Foreign policy has a way of sending ripples throughout history. and those effects may not be seen until generations later.
Israel-Hamas Conflict – After days of an intense volleying of rocket fire between Israeli forces and Hamas, which is widely regarded as a terrorist organization by the US and Western Nations, a shaky cease-fire has been enacted. Hamas illustrated that it has gained more power since the last military interaction between the two sworn enemies. Hamas was able to fire rockets as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem through new rocket technology supplied by Iran which were smuggled through Africa, into Egypt and through a system of hidden tunnels into Gaza. Israel implemented a new missile defense system, which at its creation was widely criticized as expensive and unnecessary; however, critics are now believers after thousands of lives were saved through the system that intercepts rockets and destroys them before hitting populated areas. The cease-fire is more stable with each day with both sides showing cooperation, but I have some concern due to the structure of the Hamas military. For one reason, the military operates in cell-like structure, but have gained discipline over the last few years. Also, there are many other factions involved in the fighting, that have close ties to Iran. Although they have said they will abide by Hamas orders and their agenda is the same, their interests may be different, which could result in an unintended escalation of violence once again.
Egypt – After the uprising and ousting of Mubarak during the tumultuous Arab Spring, Egypt floundered for a while but remained committed to establish a stable government. Even with the relatively short amount of time that has passed since then, the new leader of Egypt, President Morsi, gained some international attention for brokering a cease-fire deal between Hamas and Israel. Unlike Morsi’s predecessor, he fervently supports Hamas, and after what I can assume was international pressure exerted on him personally, a cease-fire was established to begin negotiations. Morsi, ego inflated from the success and praise for his job well-done, decided to throw himself back into the lion den. He issued a series of decrees which grant him expansive executive power that would be above any judicial review or oversight, and he argues they will be necessary for the successful conclusion of drafting Egypt’s constitution from the undermining of Mubarak supporters within the judicial branch of government. He claims he will turn the powers back over, but giving a definite answer if he will or not is only speculation. Nevertheless, this move shocked Egyptians, and thousands crowded Tahir Square, where the last revolution gain its momentum, in protest.
Here’s just three brief examples of where US Foreign Policy is a tangible concept. Global affairs are fascinating, interesting, heart-breaking, joyful and most of all complex. And yet, we see very clearly that for the last several decades the US Foreign Policy focused much on the Middle East, which often results in an expensive and bloody quagmire for all parties involved.
But with Obama’s 2nd term, we have seen a fundamental shift beginning and taking root with a great urgency. The US will now begin its focus in the Asia-Pacific region, and I think it’s a great decision by Obama and his administration. The first trip a President takes after the election is a symbolic one of importance and he visited the long time ally Thailand and a country formerly known as Burma which possesses a dark, brutal past, but is making strides to openness and human rights called Myanmar. He toured other countries in the area and consequently tensions were risen with China, as Obama strutted through their backyard. It seems reminiscent of the past Communist containment policy, as the US attempts to befriend these small nations surrounding the local superpower, which is no stranger to exploiting their land for natural resources. As China’s power shifts through its own elections and their economy has begun to slow, the US is poised to reestablish a long-lost presence in a vital region.