Why Cases like Ferguson Are Bad for Foreign Policy

By Katie Wolchko
Staff Writer

In the wake of seemingly endless instances of police brutality involving African-American citizens, the national media has put a spotlight on the true injustice of these cases as not only examples of improper law enforcement conduct, but of blatant human rights violations as well. Yet despite the domestic nature of these incidences, international communities have reacted in outrage as to the manner in which the United States is responding—or more appropriately, not responding—to these cases.

Many from the international community have cried out “hypocrisy!” as the U.S. continuously condemns such acts of institutional violence in other regions of the world while passively ignoring the gross occurrences within its own country. Even Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei entered in the debate through social media, tweeting about his disapproval of the U.S.’ take on Ferguson and jumping aboard the hashtag train with #BlackLivesMatter, according to CNN.

The fact of the matter is, the international community is in the right for criticizing the U.S. in this case, and should continue to do so. One can easily understand how these domestic crises can generate and catalyze foreign criticism; the concept of a great power’s inability to solve its own problems at home, while continuing to act as the world’s police force, is one very, very difficult to grasp and accept at face value.

Moreover, the Obama Administration has not properly handled these repeated instances of racial tension and police brutality, only worsening its effects and this shared sentiment of general incompetence. It’s easy to truly empathize with international media on how the United States has only demeaned itself to a figure of duplicity when it comes to combatting human rights violations.

Yet this is only marking half of the target. It is not only our hypocrisy in regards to these practices that is so appalling, but also our inability to efficiently solve, or to even address our own domestic issues is what ices the top of this topsy-turvy cake. We have essentially taken no action to promote progress and understanding within our divided society.

Obama’s reaction to Ferguson is a prime example. He is facing a great deal of backlash, notably from the African American community, on his response to the dilemma and the consequent protests held in the name of combatting racial profiling by the police. His response was very quiet, very timid, and sadly, very passive.

In a short statement, he argued that more extensive involvement would only ignite these already-burning tensions and would thereby make matters in the community far worse, according to the Washington Post. In a failed attempt to come across as pro-active rather than inactive, he instead called for a substantial chunk of federal funding—$263 million— to go to more efficient police training and other areas of reform. Granted, $75 million portion of this funding for body cameras on active police officers is an appropriate initiative, and one that can be of some use in clarifying the circumstances of these cases, but the voice and the figure of leadership is quite lacking.

In hindsight, the damage that has been done to U.S. foreign policy is not only because we are unwaveringly hypocritical in our responses to international violations of human rights, but also because we are unwaveringly consistent in our ability to do nothing more than that. The implications of our continued reputation as a two-faced state who is too incompetent and too short-sighted to successfully

solve its own crises of human rights does not, and will not bode well for cooperation amongst foreign leaders in the short or long run.

It is unfortunate that this reputation could have been somewhat salvaged by more extensive involvement on the part of the Obama Administration, yet it is much too late to save face now. At this point, our only hope is that the U.S. is able to perceive—and report—on substantial improvements in our own handlings of police enforcement. Perhaps then we can convince world powers that we are more than adequately addressing and preventing human rights violations, both at home and abroad, and possess the capacity to do so in the future.

Katherine Wolchko

KATHERINE WOLCHKO is a junior pursuing a degree in Diplomacy and International Relations in addition to a minor in Women and Gender Studies. Her academic interests include reproductive health, gender issues, and analytical research. She plans to pursue research with a focus on U.S. public health and education in her future career. Contact Katie at katherine.wolchko@student.shu.edu.

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