Editorial: U.S. needs to lead again


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Often, it seems the U.S. public’s view on foreign policy can swing like a pendulum: One year, we’re trying to do too much, the next, not enough.

A new poll from Pew Research released on Aug. 28 has revealed that the number of Americans who believe that Obama is “not tough enough” on national security has increased 16 percentage points since June 2009 to 54 percent. Moreover, in the last 10 months, the number of people who believe the United States does too little to address global problems has almost doubled to 31 percent.

Clearly, Americans are becoming increasingly eager for the United States to become more active around the globe.

It wasn’t always like this. A CNN poll conducted in the fall of 2006 showed that 61 percent of those polled disapproved of the war in Iraq. When President Obama took office in 2009, he was elected as the candidate to end the wars around the world. In a speech on Syria in 2013, Obama distinctly said, “America is not the world’s policeman.” However, it now seems as if most Americans do not believe in that vision.

As America has taken a step back from the international stage under Obama, it has created space for insidious forces to step in. Because the United States has developed a precedent of action, most recently during the Bush years, a more passive stance under Obama has many Americans flip-flopping and demanding more intervention. The emergence of ISIS, Russia’s aggression, and even the Ebola virus have all contributed to these issues being ranked at the top of the list on Americans’ view of security threats.

While the previous enemies in the War on Terror have been shadowy, ISIS has established itself as a specific enmy that Americans can focus on. By beheading an American in a chilling video, the group has established itself as the face of terror. The Pew poll shows that “the Islamic militant group in Iraq & Syria known as ISIS” has jumped to second place on the list of top security threats, with 67 percent saying that it is a “major threat” to the United States.

The tension with Russia has also had an effect in spurring calls for American action. While Obama has imposed numerous sanctions, it has had little effect in stopping Russia. Despite international uproar, Russia was able to annex Crimea, and on Aug. 28, thousands of Russian troops crossed into Ukraine to support the rebel forces. Russia’s recent increase in aggression has caused some to view the United States as weak in comparison.

As always, public perception is heavily partisan; 46 percent of Republicans compared with only 24 percent of Democrats think that the United States does not do enough to solve global problems. This means that while there generally is a call for more intervention, much of the perceptions on this issue still depends which political party someone belongs to.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that there is a fine line on how much the United States can become engaged in international threats without becoming overzealous. While the Bush administration may have been too aggressive in using the American military, the Obama administration’s foreign policy has not done enough to paint the United States as a world leader. We must also continue to rally the world to form a coalition so that the burden of securing peace and humanitarian aid does not fall solely on America’s shoulders.

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