Foreign policy and international affairs don’t really have a great reputation among Americans. In 2012, polls showed that only around 5 percent of voters considered foreign policy a top priority. For those of us who care deeply about global affairs, this is discouraging. As is true of a great number of important but complicated topics, foreign policy is vastly underrated and the large-scale lack of understanding has serious ramifications.
Yes, foreign affairs comes across as a bit pretentious. Sure, it’s a labyrinthine mystery that reveals how little you know the more you learn. But there are a lot of reasons why caring about foreign policy, or at least keeping up with a few key issues, is a very good idea.
Be A Better Voter
The only thing worse than people who don’t vote are people who vote without a exploring the issues. When it comes to international issues, candidates are able to get away with little more than platitudes and simplistic foreign policy platforms. Watching the foreign policy debate in 2012 was cringe-worthy. But politicians don’t need to articulate actual plans because the public doesn’t demand it of them. The only way to make that happen is show foreign policy is valued by the public, and that the voters understand the issues enough to see through “Good things are good and bad things are bad” style answers.
International Affairs Affects Us All
The effect of some foreign policy decisions, such as going to war, is obvious for the generation that came of age during the War on Terror. But there’s a far more complex relationship between the US and the rest of the world. It’s easy to brush aside the constant inundation of bad news from overseas by dismissing it as taking place too far away to be of immediate consequence. Although sometimes the impact can take some time to reach US soil, things that take place abroad do have consequences for the average American citizen. Be it regional disputes impacting oil prices or the environmental fallout of disasters like Fukushima, knowing what’s going on around the world gives you a deeper understanding of how we got where we are and some idea of what could be coming next. It also provides a big picture view of how we, as Americans, impact the rest of the world. (Spoiler: It’s not always in a great way.)
Provides Perspective on Your Own Country
When you’re in the echo chamber that is US news, it can be difficult to look past the often nationalistic and overly optimistic view that America is a beautiful, unique butterfly. But when you’re tuned in to policies other countries have in place and how the US ranks among other industrialized countries it becomes clear that there is a great deal of room for improvement. Just as we can learn from others how to move ourselves forward, we can draw from the experiences of other countries to make the US a more equal and just place.
Millennials Have Unprecedented Contact With The World
Between expanded access to the internet, social media, and the frequency of travel 20-somethings and generations coming after them can interact with the rest of the globe with incredible ease. This means an expansion of culture, context, and general understanding of humanity. But it also increases the chances of becoming the stereotypical “Ugly American”, uneducated in the ways of the world and unwilling to learn. Don’t be that guy. Be the guy who has a grasp on a given country’s history, politics, and culture. You’ll get way more out of any interaction, and leave a far better impression of the States.
Foreign Affairs Can Be Hilarious
It’s not all uptight diplomats shaking hands with forced smiles. From time to time, international relations is just bizarre! Take, for example, that time George Bush I puked into the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister. Or when Boris Yeltsin’s sparring with the press reduced Bill Clinton to tears. And how can we forget Vladimir Putin’s habitually shirtless wildlife adventures? When cultures meet, they will occasionally clash with results only amplified by awkward translators. But if you aren’t paying enough attention, you’ll miss them. And lose out on a very “in the know” witty trivia night team name in the process.
So, yes, foreign policy can be a non-stop downer fest. But the payoff is pretty huge when you consider that quickly skimming the international edition of the New York Times will result in your knowing more about world events than a huge swath of the population. And of course, if something is just too confusing, you can always count on us here at Literally, Darling to provide a backgrounder.
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