Why Don’t Americans Care About Foreign Policy?

By Joe Young

Watching the last three debates (two presidential, one VP) is disheartening for the foreign policy lovers like myself. The crime was most egregiously on display in last Tuesday’s town hall forum where audience members offered questions, nearly all concerned with domestic issues.

When the issues did seem to start going in the foreign policy world, the questions were bad and the answers were worse. Question: why can’t the Department of Energy do something about gas prices? The answers from the candidates were pandering and dishonest. The real answer: oil is a global commodity that is subject to the whims of markets and outside the strict control of governments.

Foreign policy, however, is one place where a president can actually do something and avoid getting bogged down in gridlock. Why can’t the President pass comprehensive tax reform? One easy answer is to blame a lack of cooperation from the other side of the aisle. Why can’t the President pull troops from Iraq or Afghanistan? That is actually something a president can do without the other side.

So why do we blame a president for high gas prices (when we shouldn’t) and yet we don’t we care about foreign policy?

It could be that American voters are just not aware aware of international issues, as this recent piece by Uri Friedman demonstrates. The easy answer is that we the electorate care about what is happening in the US, but not elsewhere.

Tonight is the final debate. Yes, I get my wish and have a whole debate on foreign policy. Will it swing a tight election? Will anyone force the candidates to give tough answers to complicated issues? We will see.

Note: Dan Drezner, Erik Voeten, and Jon Western all have takes on the debate worth reading. Foreign Policy also has a good roundup of the 50 foreign policy questions the moderator should ask tonight.

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