Jim Hoge: How American Interest in Foreign Affairs Waxes and Wanes

It's a bit of an overstatement to say that Americans don't care at all about what's happening outside of our borders, but Jim Hoge, the longtime editor of Foreign Affairs magazine says that the American public’s interest in foreign affairs "waxes and wanes dependent on how much they think a crisis is about to affect us at home." Hoge says that's why the attacks of September 11, 2001, among other things, made Americans much more suddenly aware "that in the modern world of globalization both of security weaponry as well as economics and culture, it was no longer sort of invulnerable to the plights and the conflicts and the tensions and the angers elsewhere in the world."

In his Big Think interview, Hoge also talks about how Pakistan has become an unforeseen—and major—problem for the U.S. "Pakistan is a major state," he says. "It’s not like Afghanistan, a backwater state.  It has a big population, a lot of big military, nuclear weapons and one of the great nation to nation conflicts that still goes on.  If there is going to be another big nation to nation war it’s more likely to be between India and Pakistan than almost anybody else." He says that one would have to assume that such a war would involve nuclear weapons, putting America in the position of supporting one ally over another in a devastating conflict.

Hoge thinks the jury is still out on whether Barack Obama's strategy in Afghanistan will work, but that if we base an idea of success on evidence we have at the moment, it's not likely to turn out very well. Our strategy is currently just to "train and transfer," he says—we're bringing the Afghan security forces up to speed in one part of the country after another, and then hoping to simply leave. Can we make that work?  Hoge says he's skeptical, because the Taliban has once again become a major force in the country; because the security forces we're training aren't very reliable; and because neighboring Pakistan wants to keep the country as a sort of vassal state of potential use in some sort of conflict with India.

And China may be seriously building up internal tensions, says Hoge. Workers who are being paid poorly are upset about work rules that are "almost inhuman," as well as the damaging effects of pollution.  And the country has a big demographic problem as well. "Because of the one child policy, which has been in place now for well over a quarter of a century they have stopped growing in population and actually they’re going to go off of a cliff here very soon," says Hoge. "They’re going to go from having been a young nation to being a very old one and without a sufficient safety net for a very large elderly population.  They’re also going to have not enough workers for the workforce."

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