Lawrence Davidson writes in a guest op-ed for IC: Americans' penchant for paying little attention to their nation's foreign policies has powerful and disastrous effects on national politics and policy-making. Here are two important implications:
1. Popular disinterest in foreign affairs means that the vast majority of Americans abrogate their say in foreign policy formulation to a small number of citizens who do care about specific foreign policies and, constituting themselves as lobbies, are organized to make their influence felt. This can be seen clearly in the case of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The war was planned and launched by small groups of Americans with specific, ideologically based, perceptions of the world. These ideologically motivated lobbies, whether ethnically oriented or neoconservative in nature, have little connection to the local concerns of the majority of Americans. Yet the consequences of their actions have impacted all of us.
2. Because most Americans pay little attention to foreign affairs they lack the knowledge necessary to accurately contextualize the situation when foreign events do seem to intrude upon their lives. The assertion that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction that were to be used on American targets was an example of such a situation. Having no objective knowledge to assess this claim, Americans had to rely on the information given to them by others, most of the time government spokesmen and media “pundits.” The average citizen had no way of knowing if these alleged experts did or did not know what they were talking about, and if they had reasons to present a biased picture of events. However, the consistent supplying of what turned out to be less than objective information to millions of citizens who were otherwise ignorant, created a “thought collective” capable of moving the entire national population to war. Millions of lives have been lost or ruined as a consequence. This story is not a unique one. It has happened before and could soon happen again with the alleged threatening nation now being Iran.
Iran is a nation that has never invaded another country in modern times. Its civilian nuclear research activities are legal under international law and the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency has reported no evidence of nuclear weapons development. Yet, the same lobbies and politicians who led the United States into Iraq now insist that Iran is also worthy of sanctions and attack. Once again, the vast majority of Americans have no major sources of information on this issue apart from those which have already failed them in the case of Iraq. Nor are our elected officials behaving in ways that might prevent a compounding of the disaster of Iraq with another disaster in Iran. Why is this so?
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