Foreign policy issues lost in recession

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October 28, 2008

12:50 AM

“Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.” — John F. Kennedy

Barring an incredibly close vote, or the intervention of cronies, family members and FOX News, the 2008 presidential campaign will end a week from today. Then, no matter who emerges victorious — it looks at this point that it will be Sen. Barack Obama — the problems will really begin.

The United States is in the midst of what many economists and commentators consider the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Little else has been discussed during the past few weeks, and it’s not hard to see why. Following the failure of Lehman Brothers in September, credit markets began to freeze, sending shocks up and down Wall Street and disastrous ripple effects throughout the global economy.

Obama saw an incredible boost in the polls, indicating that the “market-cures-all” approach of Sen. John McCain and his party — regardless of its merits or feasibility — was simply not resonating with voters during such a tumultuous period.

Many journalists and pundits have commented that the financial crisis was the worst thing that could have happened to the McCain campaign. (I’d say it’s a close tie between that and picking a running mate roughly as capable of holding public office as Britney Spears.) But the real victims are the voters, and not just because their savings, college education plans for their children and 401Ks are being suddenly threatened. The gravest danger of the financial crisis is that it has occupied a singular position in the campaign’s political discourse, pushing to the rear other important issues that the next president will have to address, many that originate from beyond our borders.

Foreign policy has become the forgotten theme of the 2008 campaign. It was expected to be a major strong point for McCain, following his military service and 26 years in Congress. It was expected to be Obama’s critical vulnerability, given his relatively short stint in the Senate — no doubt influencing him to select Sen. Joseph Biden, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as his running mate. But rather than serving as one candidate’s strength or another’s weakness, it hasn’t really mattered at all.

If you need an idea of how not to conduct foreign policy, simply look at the last eight years. The Bush Administration consistently ignored the national interest in order to pursue its own agenda. It squandered all the good will that was shown to the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 by burning nearly every important diplomatic bridge that the country had, showing contempt for diplomacy, the United Nations, international law and the Geneva Convention.

While the Bush administration did provide more monetary aid to Africa for AIDS prevention programs and infrastructure development than any presidential administration in history, their rhetorical connections between using military force in Iraq and promotion of democracy severely undermined U.S. efforts to promote the spread of democracy and freedom. Many past presidents have been judged by their performance in international crises. They are remembered for their successes and failures. It’s not hard to guess how Bush will be remembered.

At the forefront of the country’s current concerns abroad are the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons (not nuculeur, Sarah Palin) and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. All are incredible challenges resulting from the failures of the Bush Administration to adequately pursue a solution to the ongoing Middle East feud, as well as its committing ground troops to Iraq at the expense of Afghanistan, and refusal to even explore diplomatic avenues with the Iranians.

The differences between the two candidates for president are incredible. McCain would continue the policy of ignoring Iran, which would make it all the more likely that Iran will acquire weapons capable of striking Israel. It’s also unlikely that, without some sort of diplomatic effort Iran would suddenly help the United States stabilize Iraq or the broader Middle East, where Iran has long been implicated with assisting terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Prominent American journalists and diplomats have consistently pointed out over the past several years that not sitting down with Iran is absolute folly. It seems that Obama understands this as well.

So why, with countless hotspots overseas, is foreign policy absent from the campaign? Perhaps the media is culpable. Major foreign policy addresses don’t get the same type of coverage as those dealing with race, domestic policy, lipstick on pigs or Jeremiah Wright. Maybe the voters simply don’t care. That’s understandable with some of today’s economic difficulties.

But the next president will inherit a host of foreign problems. He will have to cope with an international community that is furious with the way American power has been conducted recently. He will have to fix a military that is stretched thin and a diplomatic corps that is almost nonexistent. These are important things to keep in mind when we go to the polls.

Alexander Ely is a senior at the College.

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