Though President Barack Obama has ended one war in the Middle East and is currently working to end another, progress remains difficult to define and achieve. But Obama’s foreign policy approach — reducing military spending, moving on from more than a decade of war, focusing on East Asia — is what will be most beneficial for the country.
It is impossible to talk about the future of U.S. foreign policy without talking about the Middle East. In the last decade, the United States’ involvement in the Middle East has generally revolved around two things: Israel and oil. Former President George W. Bush handled these two issues by supporting Israel with a blank check and invading a country that did not possess nuclear weapons.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney calls for a return to Bush’s policies, which would further vilify the country’s international image and precipitate dramatic increases in military spending for years.
With recent events, such as the assassination of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and murder of three other Americans, such foreign policy is unacceptable for the future of America. The attack on the Middle East embassy last week was not a means to an end — it is a symptom of an endemic foreign policy problem. The next president cannot continue the policies that have contributed to a negative image of the United States in the Middle East.
The clash between the Middle East and Western powers has deep historical roots. The mess of policies the United States has employed to prevent violence in the Middle East has not worked because it has largely assumed a militaristic role. Admittedly, Obama has not entirely changed that. During his time as president, he ordered a record number of drone strikes, targeting Taliban soldiers along with al-Qaeda leaders.
Though, while taking such action is more aggressive than Bush was in many respects when it comes to fighting in the Middle East, he is not as hawkish. Right now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the United States to join Israel in an attack on Iran. While Obama does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, his administration is committed to avoiding more war.
Romney does not share this view. More war means more lives lost and more money wasted on military spending rather than bolstering our sagging economy.
When it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Obama favors a two-state solution that allows Palestinians to have their own country and their own dignity. Romney was filmed in the video released by Mother Jones this week saying that Palestinians have no interest in peace. As he sees it, “…we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.” Is that how the president elect should approach a conflict as serious as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What does that say about his approach to foreign policy?
While America’s involvement in the Middle East has never been ideal, Obama’s policies uphold a belief that, eventually, conflict can be minimized and some version of peace can be achieved.
We are either at the dusk or dawn of the Arab Spring — the first year of a trend to last for centuries or to watch a modern-day revolution fold in on itself. But one thing is for certain: This shift creates a gap that might slowly allow America to break with an image as an Israel-loving, Islamophobic imperialist power.
The nation’s foreign policy during the next four years will leave a historic, powerful effect on the political landscape of the Middle East. One presidential candidate plans for a return to failed policies, whereas the other will make carefully measured moves to decrease our country’s military presence — a presence that has brought about hatred and violence.
The conflicts in the Middle East might seem far away, but who we vote into office come Nov. 6 will have a decisive impact on either making the conflict a much larger part of our lives, or moving forward toward a better future.
Rachel Bracker is a junior majoring in linguistics. Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays.