August 25th, 2014
This past week has been both humbling and eye-opening. A lot has happened, including talks about the U.S. as a global power, and exposure to the local politics and the public’s view of current politicians in Australia.
In my politics class titled Global Transformations, the most recent topic has been states and superpowers in the world. As a result, a lot of the talk has been about the United States and its global influence. It is quite strange to hear people discussing my home country from an outsider’s perspective, since they don’t have the same national pride and personal connection. Oftentimes, both the instructor and the students speak plainly about issues in the U.S. that would be sensitive or uncomfortable to discuss as an American. The difference is especially evident in talks about the possible decline of the U.S. and the rise of other countries such as China, Brazil, Russia, and India. Currently, most people acknowledge the U.S. as the main superpower, whether they support its position or not.
Living in the States, I often thought the influence, power, and respect of the United States was sometimes exaggerated, and that this view of the U.S. was due to bias and wanting to believe that our country is the most powerful, even if it’s not. Thus, I was often skeptical of claims to the extent of our country’s influence. I believed that other countries held considerable weight in world politics, and many Americans overestimate the influence of our country. However, while other countries do have a large impact in international relations, I was surprised by how unanimously my peers, many of whom are international students, acknowledged the current dominance of the United States.
This agreement subsequently opened the floor for the discussion of many significant questions such as the following: Is the United States still the only world superpower? Is the U.S. in decline, and if so, does it matter? What’s your opinion on the foreign policy of the United States? At times, people’s responses made me inwardly cringe as they strongly criticized U.S. foreign policy, both past and present, and its involvement in many world conflicts. While the American public is not completely blind to the issues of the U.S., I believe we often try to downplay the problems to make ourselves feel more comfortable and secure. In contrast, people from other countries seem to see the country’s problems in a more realistic, objective light.
While all this criticism of the United States sometimes made me uncomfortable, it also forced me to re-evaluate my opinion of our country’s power, past actions in world conflicts, and current foreign policy. After seeing so many Australians and international students acknowledge the influence and might of the United States, I am more convinced. Like I originally thought, everyone might not like how strong the U.S. is compared to the rest of the world, but since the power is undeniably there, I believe we have a responsibility to use it wisely.
In the past, I don’t think we have always been responsible with our might, especially regarding our military. After doing more research into both the Iraq War and Afghanistan War, I don’t support some of our actions, such as invading Iraq with no concrete evidence of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, I do support our fight against human rights abuse in the Middle East and other parts of the world, but I also wish that we had better plans for getting our troops out and teaching the local militia how to handle the problem. The hard question for me is how to ensure that we use our military strength to help those in need, and not abuse it to force our way.
Aside from learning about the United States role in global politics, I also have learned a lot about the current state of politics in Australia through talks with locals. The main topic of discussion has been around the Prime Minister Tony Abbott. So far, all of the locals I’ve talked with can’t stand him, and even the teachers make jokes at his expense, expressing their frustration. From what I’ve heard, people are mainly irritated with the recent budget plan. I was also told from some frustrated students that the government is trying to shut down the primary independent news station, since it does not necessarily support current government actions. There was even a protest at my school when Tony Abbott came to speak; below is a picture of some of the gathered students.
I did not stay, but it got violent enough for the police to come in or horseback, resulting in one student being stepped on. Chants of “education should be free, not just for the bourgeoisie” and banners supporting refugee groups were just a few of the topics of dissent. In short, there is a lot of public unrest over the decisions of Tony Abbott, and I’ll be trying to learn more while I’m here.