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University professors challenge students to look at foreign policy

By Ehlayna NapolitanoStaff Writer

In the past two weeks, the issue of foreign policy has exploded onto the mainstage of the political campaigns of both President incumbent Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney. Issues over best courses of action to be taken in light of news of attacks on US embassies and challenges to the current administration by Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu have forced both candidates to begin to address their foreign policy plans—an aspect of most elections that has stayed relatively unaddressed in this particular race for the White House.

In this election, the candidates have stayed relatively quiet on foreign policy matters and haven’t gone into very much detail on what their plans are for the future of this nation’s relations internationally if elected. “To this point, it hasn’t factored in because the differences between the candidates are not very substantial,” said Carolyn Eisenberg, a history professor at Hofstra. She explained that Obama has taken a relatively centrist—or even conservative—line on foreign policy thus far in his presidency. Because of this, it has become difficult for Republicans to criticize what he has been doing. “Republicans are looking for ways to say Obama is weak…but he isn’t giving them a lot,” she said.

In terms of this election, Professor of Political Science Richard Himelfarb agreed that the candidates have discussed their foreign policy plans broadly, although it hasn’t factored in very much. “[Foreign policy] is something that should worry people,” he said. “The world is an extremely dangerous place.” Furthermore, he noted that each candidate has broadly outlined a general plan of action. “Romney believes that the US needs to be the leader in the world…Obama views the US as…a force that stands between warring factions,” he said. This is a fundamental policy difference that would ultimately determine how the candidates construct a foreign policy plan in the future.

However, the relative apathy toward foreign policy issues is pervasive throughout the voting population, particularly among younger voters. “The issue of foreign policy has been discussed so little [that] it’s completely off the radar for students,” Dr. Himelfarb said. It has been confirmed by polls and research that the age group from 18-24 plays the smallest role in politics; according to democracysouth.org, voters in this age range are the least registered demographic, as well as the age group that turns out least to vote in November. “I think it’s a huge problem that young people aren’t paying attention to what’s happening internationally,” she said. “I don’t know if I particularly blame young people [though.]” The reason for this, Dr. Eisenberg feels, can be blamed on the media. There has been very little coverage by journalists and news media about things happening internationally; for instance, she notes that in the past year or so, there has been relatively little conversation about the war still going on in the Middle East.

Rachael Durant, a freshman Psychology major and unaffiliated voter, confirmed that there is a certain level of apathy toward foreign policy questions. “It really has a lot to do with perspective. To a college student, the major issues are those concerning loans, and the economy, jobs and post-grad  plans…I think a lot of people just don't understand the effects of foreign policy on the country,” she said.

Indeed, the primary concern for students tends to be economical and other domestic issues, simply because it appears to relate to them more. “Students on this campus don’t seem to believe the US has a significant role to play in foreign affairs,” Dr. Himelfarb said. “The experience of conflicts [in the Middle East] raised the question among students, ‘Why do we have to be involved?’”  He feels, however, that students don’t realize the role that foreign affairs can play in their everyday lives. “9/11 brought our economy to a halt for a few months. If there’s a nuclear war in the Middle East, there’s the potential for a widespread conflict [over] we get our oil…It would affect economical affairs everywhere adversely.” Petroleum prices and rises in the cost of living are among the effects that a compromised relationship with other nations could lead to. “Foreign policy affects the economy because we are a globalized community. We need other countries to trade with us…A poor foreign policy with countries in the Middle East can cause an increase [in] petroleum prices. This in turn causes a raise in the price of certain goods, like good,” Durant said.

In light of the recent events in the Middle East, including the recent assassination of an US ambassador and protests across the region, the role that foreign policy will play in the upcoming election could be shifted significantly. It remains to be seen if the candidates will begin to significantly address these issues, or if they will continue their path of relative silence.

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