I remember when I was younger, more naive, and less traveled on a cultural exchange in Tanzania in 2006 a random Tanzanian would ask me about George Bush. They weren’t asking because they liked him, they were confused and weren’t sure what we were trying to do in the world. I didn’t have an answer, but I wasn’t about to apologize. But, I knew then that what we say and do here echoes across the globe. We are the de-facto world leadership, the last remaining superpower and our political discourse and actions matter. Politics here have a real impact abroad.
I was overseas during the red-line fiasco. From my small vantage point, it seemed like a diplomatic disaster in the Middle East, at least for a little while. The Saudis took extreme exception to the U.S. and the President’s decision to not take military action against the Syrian regime. They vowed to go it alone. Which is exactly Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain, wrote in the New York Times.
It mattered then and still does, today. Every nation is acting in its self-interest. Saudi Arabia began to contemplate if our goals weren’t one in the same. I wonder if other nations began to think along the same lines. In fact, not long after – Russia began to play a more prominent role in the Middle East, capitalizing on the sentiment of the red-line fallout. The red line turned into a UN operation to recover chemical weapons, but it was tainted by the fact that Russia seemed to broker the deal after the U.S. failed to take action. Military and diplomatic partnerships are certainly not agnostic to politics.
Every government is filled with political appointments and people in leadership working on programs consistent with the government policy objectives. But, it’s deeper than that – SOF operators, intelligence officers, and foreign service officers have to interact with and work alongside locals. When the average person doesn’t trust your government or the institution, you represent those institutions which assigned that mistrust to you, as a person. In some cases, you might be the only American this individual will ever meet. When your political leaders aren’t popular for whatever reason, you’re at an unfair advantage. It’s not fair because we want to get our job done. Nearly every circumstance, when we’re abroad – it’s for a love of country, not politics.