Contrary to what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney said on Tuesday’s debate, the greatest foreign policy issue for the United States is not a nuclear Iran nor is it the United States’ own fiscal woes. The greatest foreign policy issue that the United States faces is an Al Qaeda jihadist coalition’s control of an area the size of France in Mali.
Barack Obama likes to stress the role that he played in combatting terrorism during his term. Specifically, he consistently brings up the example of ordering the killing of Osama bin Laden. Yes, this move helped Americans to gain closure over the 9/11 attacks. However, killing Osama Bin Laden did little to advance US counterterrorism interests. In fact, Al Qaeda, with its newfound power over Mali, is stronger now than it ever was under Bin Laden.
The United States’ assistance is particularly important to intervention in Mali precisely because United Nations’ action has thus far been extremely weak. The United Nations seeks to rest the Mali’s future on the limited resources of Mali’s Western African neighbors. Such a plan is doomed to failure.
The issue, of course, is that many of the NATO nations that would typically lead such an international response are recovering from the political turnoil from the recently ended Iraq war and the soon to end Afghanistan War. Granted, in those cases, Western intervention was not required nor was it requested. However, Malians and the international community as a whole is currently requesting assistance in ousting the Al Qaeda government and Sharia law.
The United States has the military resources to coordinate an effective intervention in Mali. Now, the question arises. What benefit will the United States gain from such a conflict. The answer is complex, but in short, the U.S. will have very few benefits from intervention in Mali. Al Qaeda is a large network that is expanding at a rate faster than the United States can combat.
However, the United States has a duty to relinquish self-interest and work for international interest. This is the natural task of economic and military superpowers; even Britain fulfilled this task to an extent through imperialism, although some question the motives of Britain’s imperialist history. The international community has continually requested the United States to work as an international police, a responsibility that the United States has fulfilled for the most part over the past couple of decades.
Yet, the United States’ responsibility to tackle issues of common international interest are in question this election. Throughout the debates, Romney and Obama have seemed to agree that they would should focus on benefitting its economy and devising a foreign policy based on issues that directly impact the U.S. Both candidates appear to be embarking upon an imprudent path based solely on self-interest. The international community witnessed and experienced the effects of that type of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. It would be a true tragedy if the United States resorted to the foreign policies of the Cold War simply for economic benefit.