“Oh the times, they are a changin.” This quote from a song by Bob Dylan accurately sums up the political atmosphere of America as we approach the midterm elections in November. As the world appeared to violently spiral out of control this past summer, Americans were suddenly made aware of what happens when we turn our backs on the world. As a result, there has been a shift in Americans’ perception of our foreign policy towards a more “interventionist” point of view. This has the potential to have a profound effect on the November elections. With enough seats up for re-election in the Senate that have the potential to swing control of the chamber either way, candidates must shift their focus, and in some cases, their ideology, on intervention and foreign policy in order to maintain their seats. There is the potential for a large Republican victory based on the changing world around us, and Americans’ reactions to it.
Before June of this year, the 2014 elections looked like they would be focused primarily on domestic policies (Obamacare, the economy, and immigration). Now things don’t look so crystal clear. A Fox News poll conducted 4 years ago showed that the Economy was the number 1 issue voters were using to measure for whom they would vote, and Iraqi foreign policy was dead last. Now, the tables have turned. According to Fox News, “While the economy still matters, recent polling shows voters want a tougher approach to foreign policy, as Islamic State militants ravage northern Iraq and Syria and threaten western interests.”
This past summer, the world went crazy. Wars broke out everywhere, dragging in any nation with interests in places as far flung as Ukraine and Gaza. Above all, ISIS rose to power, leaving a trail of death and destruction that eventually even bled through the White House effort to paint the situation as just one of those Middle East things that happens from time to time. A recent Fox News poll shows that 57% of America thinks that we need to send ground troops into Iraq/Syria in order to defeat ISIS for good. Trying to get 57% of America to agree on anything is virtually impossible these days, so this is a very important indicator of how Americans feels about America intervening in the world. On top of this, 55% of Americans believe that we haven’t done enough to stop ISIS. To put this in perspective, President Obama only won 51% of the popular vote in 2012. More Americans think we should be fighting ISIS with everything we have than thought that Barack Obama should be president. Republicans and Democrats alike should take note of these poll numbers as we approach November. With the threat of ISIS not going away anytime soon, politicians whose platform has a strong message about confronting ISIS have a much greater chance of winning their respective elections. Americans understand that ISIS is a legitimate threat to American lives, something that various politicians can’t, or won’t, understand.
In the important battleground states, America’s reaction to ISIS looks to be the deciding factor between the two parties. In North Carolina especially, the Republican candidate, Thom Tillis, is using ISIS to try to gain the edge over his Democratic opponent, Kay Hagen. Tillis recently released an ad questioning whether or not Hagen is taking ISIS seriously. According to Fox News, “Tillis’ approach effectively seizes on a growing national anxiety about the rise in terror groups, which is becoming a factor in races that used to focus on health care and the economy.”
As much as this change of events is advantageous to some Republicans, it’s equally disadvantageous to certain Democrats and Republicans. Democrats, and certain Isolationist-inclined Republicans who have taken to the airwaves over the past few years to denounce any and all American military foreign policy, now find themselves back-pedaling as fast as possible. Republicans like Rand Paul now must insist that they are not isolationist, and that ISIS needs to be dealt with swiftly and harshly. Democrats, who are traditionally anti-intervention and anti-war, now find themselves having to distance themselves from the anti-action President Obama in order to survive the rising tide of American discontent. One such example can be found in Sen. Jeanne Shahenn’s (D-N.H.) twitter feed. In September she tweeted her discontent with Obama’s infamous “manageable” remark on ISIS. She tweeted: “Do not believe ISIL is ‘manageable,’ agree these terrorists must be chased to the ‘gates of hell.’”
Rand Paul has become one of the leaders of the Republican Party in recent years. His unique blend of conservatism and isolationism has led many Republicans to consider him a major contender for 2016. However, the recent events with ISIS have caused him to have to come out in support for war with ISIS. He has done this with measured caution, trying to show that he could be a leader who would use action when action is required, but not necessarily an “interventionist.” In an op-ed for TIME, Rand Paul stated, “I still see war as the last resort. But I agree with Reagan’s idea that no country should mistake U.S. reluctance for war for a lack of resolve. As Commander-in-Chief, I would not allow our enemies to kill our citizens or our ambassadors. ‘Peace through Strength’ only works if you have and show strength.” Rand Paul isn’t the only one who is trying to adjust their message to this time of conflict. Democrat Kay Hagan, who is quoted as saying “We need to get out of Iraq” in 2008, is now coming out in full support of airstrikes against ISIS, and has been trying to get Obama to arm the Syrian rebels since last year.
What we are seeing is a shift away from isolationism, which is only a good thing. The crisis in Iraq and Syria is just one example of what happens when America turns its back on the world. We’ve been down this tragic road before. At the end of WWII, as America took stock of what the war had cost, we vowed that we would never let this sort of evil ever appear in the world again. We couldn’t believe we had ignored it for so long, and we were ashamed. Americans seem to have forgotten about this today. As we read about the fresh slaughters in the Middle East, Americans would do well to remember that these are nothing new. America saw similar images of Concentration Camps before WWII, and we decided that they weren’t as bad as they seemed, and we didn’t need to waste American lives on a “regional” problem. We were wrong, and millions died because of it. America should have learned – once and for all time – on Dec 7th 1941, when the Japanese aircraft came screaming over Pearl Harbor, that isolationism doesn’t work in this world. When the Cold War ended, America was ready to crawl back into isolation. What happened? On 9/11, radical Islam murdered thousands, and America was once again stirred to action. However, that great America resolve to avenge 9/11 has since faded. Now the isolationist fervor that has gripped the nation recently is starting to fade, and politicians are starting to realize that if there is any hope of stopping the evil in this world, it is through American power.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the increasing escalation of ISIS’s brutal tactics, and the growing sense that America’s response so far isn’t doing anything to stop them factors into the 2014 elections. With so much at stake, Americans can’t afford to be ignorant of their elected officials’ stances on the issues. With the future of the Middle East resting on American policy, and that policy depending on those elected to Congress next month, this is one Election Day in which it can truly be said that the fate of the world rests, literally, in the hands of the American voters.
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