By Sean Langberg
Sean is the Co-Chair of the STAND chapter at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Side note: Sean’s chapter is hosting an atrocity prevention conference on December 1 and 2, 2012. The registration deadline is November 15, and attendance is free for students. For more information, visit http://standnow.org/NCconference.
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney met last night in Florida to discuss their plans for some popular foreign policy issues. This presidential debate is different because voters are typically less informed about foreign policy issues and, as a result, many election experts think the debate is less important than ones focused on issues such as the economy and taxes. This is not necessarily wrong or unnatural. Voters are more inclined to care about issues that directly affect them. However, while many voters may not consider the US position on sanctions in Burma when they stop into the ballot box on November 6, thousands of atrocity prevention advocates across the country will. Moreover, the intimate connections between foreign and domestic policy mean that issues that may seem remote are actually very pertinent to the everyday US citizens. Examples include war spending, soldier deployments, and foreign aid appropriations.
Let’s start with what the candidates did talk about. Iran, Israel, Benghazi, China, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and a dose of Syria. Check the cable news ticker for more info.
Now what did Obama and Romney not talk about? First, neither of the candidates mentioned anything of significance regarding Syria. Neither wants to involve the US military directly, but think that material support and training are acceptable. Second, continuing violence in Sudan was completely left off the table despite the independence of South Sudan during Obama’s term. Third, Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent trip to the United States and the cycles of reform in Burma. Fourth (and least surprising), the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo supported by Rwanda and a multitude of domestic armed groups. All of these issues are ones that the US government engages with, but are rarely discussed in popular discourse. It’s our job, as advocates of peace and atrocity prevention to bring these issues to the forefront with the help of civilians on the ground and diaspora groups in the US. Last, by no means are these the only issues that were neglected. Other important ones such as climate change, US-Mexico border violence, and the Israel-Palestine peace process were largely ignored as well.
It’s important to note that calling last night the “foreign policy debate” is a bit of a misnomer. The issues that the candidates discussed (Iran, Benghazi, etc.) will be a small fraction of their actual foreign policy. Crafting and implementing a global geopolitical code is a complicated, often ad hoc process that involves everyone from the US Postal Service to the Central Intelligence Agency. In my experience, Stand is committed to viewing foreign policy as the broad, intricate issue it is rather than focusing on headline-grabbing issues. Our engagement with conflict minerals (Securities and Exchange Commission/Department of Commerce), foreign aid (Congress, USAID, et al), and the Sudan peace process (Department of State, Department of Energy, et al) represents only a portion of the comprehensive advocacy and policy solutions that are required. Students, diaspora groups, and professional allies must continue to push our representatives to act, develop smart prevention strategies, and empower communities affected by mass violence no matter what CNN reports on November 6.