I am reminded of a Monty Python episode.
It involved a renegade superhero named Mr. Neutron. For fear of what this ultra-powerful being might do to the world, the United States prepared to got to a war footing and launch a military operation against him. A general in the Pentagon becomes quite insistent, demanding the U.S. show the rest of the world that "we've got teeth." It seems that attitude pervades the thinking of we Americans when it comes to foreign policy and the tumultuous world in which we live.
There are any number of international flashpoints for conflict. Of immediate interest is the situation in Ukraine. As a deeply divided nation attempts to hold elections, clashes have erupted and at least 32 people have been killed as of this writing. Russia has kept thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border as Vladimir Putin has made the dubious pledge to "protect Russian-speaking peoples everywhere." Putin seems to have backed away from this somewhat and has recalled forces from the border, but he maintains that Russia watches the elections and civil unrest closely. After his seizure of Crimea, many have grown uneasy, suspecting Putin aims to continue expansion and reunite the old Soviet Union.
It's concerning, yet most Americans don't think we should be involved. A poll by CBS last March said that 61% of Americans do not believe the U.S. should intervene and 65% responded that we should not give military aid to Ukraine. This is consistent with a CNN poll from last September where seven out of ten respondents stated they would not support U.S. action in Syria's brutal civil war. Not surprisingly and altogether understandable. The United States has been involved in two wars in the past 15 years, losing thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. One would certainly be forgiven for being war-weary so perhaps it's best that our president keeps us out of military actions.
So why does President Obama only have a 38% approval rating for foreign policy?
John McCain will give you his opinion. He condemned the President for not doing more in Ukraine, stating that such inaction "will only invite more aggression." McCain took this a step further with an op-ed in The New York Times, asserting that "Obama makes us look weak." Sarah Palin parroted the same line from her former running mate.
Looking at the President's polling on foreign policy, it seems that the majority of Americans fall in with the Republican line. "He's making us look weak" or perhaps in other phrasing, "It looks like we haven't got teeth." Yes, it's the odd, liberal wildling that wouldn't want us to flex our muscle. But simultaneously, the majority does not support U.S. intervention or involvement really of any kind.
So which is it? What do we want?
Do people just need to be more educated on the conflicts at hand to get us involved. One study suggest it's the opposite. Researchers at Dartmouth and Princeton University found that the less Americans know about Ukraine's location, the more they want to intervene. In other words, can't find it on a map? Bomb it!
What accounts for this disparity between "we shouldn't get involved" and "he's not doing what we want"? There might be a few explanations, such as America was born in the violence of revolution and military action is on our political and historical DNA or that we have an enormous amount of money tied in with the military industrial complex. Those explanations, however, don't seem to fully capture the matter in depth.
Not making up our minds is what will make us look weak.
Like we haven't got any teeth...or worse, any brains.
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