September 27th, 2019
Editor remarks on necessary increased presence in global affairs
FRI. | 10-09-20 | OPINION
On a simple scale, many aspects of American politics can be seen in the rooms and hallways of high school. We have factions who inhabit the same environment but frequently clash. We have domestic turmoil from time to time, such as large fights or disciplinary issues. We even have conflicts with other nations (such as the great states of D.H. Conley or South Central High School). But let us ponder one very important question: if we have internal issues such as disciplinary problems or lack of funding, do we cut ourselves off from the outside community? Ponder that as you read.
Since the beginning of the Trump administration in 2016, the United States has seen a marked increase in isolationist tendencies and a noticeable withdrawal from international affairs and organizations. This is widely knownas the “America First” policy. Current U.S. president Donald Trump often states that this move has largely been made so our government can focus on increasingly disruptive internal conflicts before we focus on international matters. Despite this claim, it is still my belief that positive global affairs and foreign policy must be upheld to a certain degree in all but the most severe circumstances.
Graphic by William Becker
When looking back at the Obama administration, the contrast between his foreign policy and Trump’s is quite apparent. One of the keystones of the previous president’s policy was to "rebuild and construct the alliances and partnerships necessary to meet common challenges and confront common threats." This is a far cry from our current situation, where Trump frequently restates that it is the "right of all nations to put their own interests first." Our administration’s focus has quite drastically shifted from bolstering international economics and stability to ensuring supposed protection of our peoples’ interests. Many of these protective acts however, have actually been quite counterproductive (or at best, rather pointless), such as last year’s notice of withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement and the frenzied defense of our southern border. Though this so-called defense of our Mexican border did utilize communication with Central American countries, it was too forceful to be considered true cooperation. According to Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times, “[Trump] threatened to block aid and slap tariffs on the relatively poor countries, [so] they acquiesced.” This action, like many others in the past several years, makes it quite apparent that U.S. international negotiation tactics have switched from cooperation and collaboration to isolationism and intimidation.
On the topic of intimidation, it has also become increasingly obvious to me that the United States has become less inviting to immigrants and general “outsiders,” and has taken on an almost high-and-mighty attitude. This follows the modern American track of exclusivity and decreased international interest that has gripped our nation for these tumultuous past four years. Though this may be presented by nationalist Americans as a way of Lady Liberty getting her self-care, it also heavily contradicts the traditional American ideal of our country being a welcoming melting pot to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” As a country built on immigration, is it morally acceptable to step back from the world and focus on ourselves? We certainly have our fair share of domestic troubles for the time being, but I still find it hard to believe that these troubles justify reversing 250-year-old ideals that are the very foundation of our existence as a country. After all, does building a literal wall and detaining hopeful refugees and their children seem like embracing the “huddled masses”?
With that said, let me make my stance clear: I do not think the United States should completely set aside internal issues to focus on international well-being and cooperation. Domestic peace and stability is extremely important and should be maintained to the best of our government’s ability. However, we must also uphold foreign relations if we are to continue functioning as a nation. The United States is not a self-sufficient country, and we still rely on many economic partnerships for the importation of goods and services. Without these, we simply cannot succeed as a country. The only path left open for us now is to simply admit our mistakes and begin the journey towards reclaiming our former status as a positively contributing member of the global community. Agreements must be rejoined and partnerships must be mended.
Unfortunately, our friendly relations are slipping. In a survey taken this year by the Pew Research Center among thirteen closely-allied countries, an average of only 34% of their citizens hold a positive view of the United States. In contrast, a 2016 poll taken among the citizens of 10 countries in the European Union showed that, at the time, 63% held a favorable view of the U.S. It is quite needless to say that our position and reputation in the international scene is at a record low.
Can I say that I’m surprised by these statistics? Truthfully told, no I cannot. In the past century, the United States has developed a trend of involving itself in international disputes and conflicts which it has little to no place in. This includes legally gray issues such as the American role in Chilean political instability throughout the 20th century and repeated crises in the Middle East which frequently seem to be exacerbated by American intervention. But with the dawn of the Trump administration, this overly-exuberant international presence has practically turned on its heels and kicked the United States into a trend of political isolationism.
Now, I am not saying we have completely pulled out of foreign interactions. On the contrary, our military policies have avoided isolationism like the plague. We continue to maintain a strong (and often unwanted) military presence in the Middle East, and conflicts occur from time to time. Rather, it is our political policies which have become isolationist. Our government follows “America First,” but our military seems to be following “America Everywhere.”
This is part of the reason why international opinions of the United States seem to drop lower and lower: we involve ourselves in that which we should not (e.g. Central American governments and trade wars), and we distance ourselves from that which we should be involved in (e.g. international climate regulations and harboring refugees). These wild variations in U.S. foreign policy are a part of what is keeping us ostracized from the rest of the global community.
However, there still is hope for recovery from this political and social depression. Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is currently leading national polls, has promised to work towards remedying many of these deep-rooted offenses if he is elected as the next president of the United States come November. This includes ending the so-called “forever” wars in the Middle East, restructuring and revitalizing international agreements to keep them relevant in the modern world, restructuring the State Department to promote beneficial diplomacy, and many other key changes. I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed that the U.S. can pick itself up, prop the doors back open, and go rejoin the international community as a positively contributing member. It’s time for Lady Liberty to get her act together.