Syria, Egypt, Ukraine, Chile, Bolivia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Tunisia. Most Americans can’t place half of these countries on a map, and that's a shame.
All of these places have, in the last ten years, experienced or are experiencing serious protests or even revolutions. The 2010s were a decade spent in revolt against oligarchs, autocrats and dictators. While these are but a select few of the countries embroiled in protest and civil unrest, each movement yearned for something similar — democracy.
For American democracy to work, it requires an informed citizenry. In a nation with such a large economy and strong military, our collective ignorance about the world has enabled truly unconscionable action and inaction.
In 2002, only 17% of Americans could accurately point to Afghanistan, a country the U.S. was — and still is — at war with, on a map. This has been an issue for a long time. The problem goes further than just not knowing where certain countries are, though. The issue is that Americans generally don’t know anything about non-western countries unless they have family members from there or are immigrants themselves. For example, more than two-thirds of Americans do not know Indonesia is a majority muslim nation.
No country more accurately displays the price of American ignorance in foreign affairs than Yemen. Described as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, the conflict has been pursued by a Saudi-led coalition that has included the indiscriminate bombing of civilians with munitions made in the United States.
In April of 2019, the Senate passed a measure to end U.S. involvement in the conflict, but Trump vetoed it. If Americans paid more attention to foreign affairs, maybe public pressure could have forced the senate to override the veto.
The true tragedy of Yemen lies in the fact that if the United States simply stopped selling arms to the gulf states and refused to refuel Saudi planes mid-flight, the coalition would be unable to continue the mass slaughter of civilians.
In April, the coalition forces declared a ceasefire to combat coronavirus, but this is not peace. It is simply a reprieve.
This past decade was defined by protest, uprising and revolution. The decade opened with the Arab Spring, which began when a Tunisian street vendor killed himself in January 2011 after being repeatedly harassed by police and not having any form of recourse.
The Arab Spring spread through much of the Middle East, and the current civil war in Syria is a direct result. If Americans better understood the reasons behind violence in other parts of the world, maybe we could better work to foster democracy and true human freedom throughout the world.
In just the past two years, both Chile and Bolivia have seen serious protest and civil unrest, and in only the past month or so, both have voted not for reaction, but progress.
In Chile, the people just voted overwhelmingly to call a constitutional convention to replace the constitution written by Pinochet. Earlier this month, the people of Bolivia rejected the party backed by the interim government in favor of the party of the previous president Evo Morales, who had to flee after a coup.
In America at this time, foreign intervention is extraordinarily unpopular with the average person, and it's a large reason why Trump won in 2016. A lot of this is due to the unpopularity of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. After the government lied about why we invaded Iraq, putting American boots on the ground became tantamount to political suicide.
I would argue, however, that as the world’s foremost power, the United States has not just the right to act, but the obligation to do so to prevent human rights abuses and genocide as well as bolster democracy and freedom with little cost in American blood or treasure.
Be it by funding pro-democracy movements to topple dictators or stationing a handful of troops in a country to prevent an invasion, the United States has a great deal of room to maneuver, and we should do so to make the world a better place. The more the average American knows about our world and about our government’s role in it, the better they can make informed decisions at the ballot box.
Nick Finan is a sophomore political science major. Reach him at email@example.com.