Unraveling the tangled web of U.S. foreign policy

Pattern emerges on closer inspection

Washington, D.C. - If you’ve been watching the coverage of U.S. foreign policy these past few months, you could be forgiven for complaining of whiplash. From the onslaught of ISIS in Iraq to tensions in Ukraine to the on-again, off-again rocket fire between Hamas and Israel, it might seem that these crises are far-flung and random.

But if you take a look at the complex relationships between the U.S. and the countries involved in these scuffles, an interesting pattern emerges: the U.S. puts pressure on some countries to change their ways, then asks the leaders of those countries to help advance U.S. interests.

Take Iraq, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced last Friday that he would step down.  The U.S. had been urging Maliki to leave office for months, arguing that he polarized the country and refused to give the country’s Sunni population adequate representation in government.

At the same time, the U.S. has relied on the Maliki government for cooperation in fighting back the militant group the Islamic State, alternatively known as ISIS, as it attempts to take over Iraqi cities and towns along the country’s border with Syria.

Liz Scheltens, Scripps News

Iraq isn’t the only place where the U.S. is simultaneously applying pressure and asking for cooperation. The U.S. is pressuring Iran to overhaul its nuclear program while it asks for Tehran’s cooperation in repelling ISIS forces from Iraq.

The U.S. has chastised Russia for sending troops into Eastern Ukraine even as it asks for help in pressuring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up chemical weapons. And the U.S. is depending on Egypt to continue to broker cease-fires between Israel and Hamas while at the same time criticizing Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi for tamping down on political expression.

For the president and his foreign policy team, the job is a high-wire act of balancing multiple and often conflicting interests in an interconnected world. Turns out, foreign policy is a lot harder than the talking heads on cable news make it out to be.

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