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Editorial: U.S. foreign policy inconsistent

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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As the Hawkeyes prepared on Sept. 21 to take down Western Michigan, a hostage crisis began on the other side of the world.

Witnesses at the scene at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, reported hearing what sounded like an electrical transformer exploding, followed by gunshots. It was midday when the mall became the center of a terrorist attack and an international tragedy.

Al-Shabab, a Somali-based cell of Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack, which has so far killed 62 people. Dozens more are missing, and authorities were still sweeping the mall Monday night, unsure if they would find more terrorists or hostages.

Unfortunately, events such as these are all too common in the war-torn and heavily divided areas of the Middle East and Africa, where militant Islamists and the regions’ armies are caught in a bloody power struggle. The U.S response to these regional crises is, however, very inconsistent.

While the American government has been intent on resolving a humanitarian crisis in Syria, for example, intervention in places such as the Congo or Somalia — sites of other international atrocities — isn’t on the table.

Whether one believes the U.S. has a moral responsibility to intervene in situations such as these or thinks that intervention would do more harm than good, one stance is in common: The United States should have a consistent approach to its foreign policy and clear-cut goals to accomplish.

The need for a consistent, goal-oriented foreign policy is clear, and the public is demanding it. With respect to intervention in Syria, a Sept. 10 New York Times poll found 79 percent of Americans did not believe the Obama administration had clearly explained U.S. goals in Syria, and 66 percent were very concerned that U.S. action in Syria would be a long and costly involvement.

The reasons behind this overwhelming public backlash should be obvious to those who have followed American foreign policy in recent history. An opaque, inconsistent foreign policy can have disastrous consequences.

In 2003, American forces invaded Iraq to depose a dictator with supposed weapons of mass destruction that, it turned out, did not exist. In the process, the region was thrown into upheaval, the reverberations of which are still being felt today. When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was removed from power, the mission became unclear.

The state of Iraq today suggests that America’s leaders did not have a cohesive plan for the embattled nation. Three bombings on Monday left 20 dead and more than 50 wounded. On Sept. 21, 92 died in bomb attacks targeting mourners in Baghdad. The chaotic sectarian violence that persists more than 10 years after U.S. intervention shows no signs of letting up.

In Syria, the argument for U.S. involvement is stronger than it was in Iraq but still smacks of inconsistency. The administration’s rationale is primarily humanitarian: chemical-weapon attacks are immoral, and as President Obama has said, violate “international norms.” Again, however, U.S. foreign involvement in the past calls the consistency of that position into question.

The 1994 Riegle Report cites evidence that the United States gave biological and chemical weapons to Suddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran war. A year ago, the use of chemical weapons became a “red line” for military action according to President Obama. Today, the Obama administration has backpedaled from such strong rhetoric in light of a drop-off in public support for invasion and a Syrian offer for disarmament of its chemical weapons.

In order for the United States to pursue an effective foreign policy, its objectives and actions need to be consistent and clear. If the nation supports humanitarian involvement in Syria, then why is it sitting out in such spots as Nairobi and Mogadishu? Ultimately, the U.S. foreign-policy platform must be one Americans can stand on, not one that wobbles beneath our feet.


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