A decades old, bloody conflict flared up this week for the first time in several years. It is one so contentious that it has displaced over one million people since the 1990s, killed thousands more and involves key Central Asian and Middle Eastern powers that influence American foreign policy—and probably 90 percent of us have never heard of it or even of the countries involved.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, fought between the former Soviet Republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia, has added another chapter to its grisly saga.
Yep, Azerbaijan and Armenia—two countries that don’t make the American headlines very often, especially when we are in an election year. Nonetheless, it is a very impactful international conflict. Tanks have been mobilized, troops have died, and Russian, Turkish and Iranian heads of state have all voiced their position on the matter—yet domestically, we know nothing of it or of its implications on the global stage.
Articles on the matter are very scarce in the American media—but that is hardly the fault of the news companies. Rather, it is that President Obama has said nothing about the conflict since its recommencement, said nothing to bring it to the public eye or to establish a stance for the United States—an omission that I feel isn’t wise.
This is a problem for a number of reasons. Primarily, it’s a shame that our chief diplomat hasn’t said much/anything on the matter simply because it means that the American news won’t cover it. And if the media doesn’t cover it or give the people exposure to the issue, Americans won’t talk about it. We rely on the President to bring matters to the public eye and deliver a stance on what we, as a nation, should do about it.
Secondly, the President’s silence is misguided because it makes it seem as if America has a weak presence in this region—which, it is worth noting, is of strategic importance, as it is could be considered a conflict within the greater Middle Eastern area. In a BBC interview, Matthew Bryza, former American Ambassador to Azerbaijan, expressed his concern that with Washington’s relative silence on the matter and, conversely, Vladimir Putin’s swift response, the United States is only giving Russia an avenue to increase their already strong influence in Central Asia and their growing role in the Levant.
President Obama has made some commendable achievements in foreign policy. Everybody is optimistic that we are finally having bilateral, diplomatic relations with Cuba again. But at the same time, he has failed to say enough—if at all—when catastrophe strikes.
This inaction has been a recent trend, as the unfolding of the Belgium attacks shows. While I am not as critical of his inaction as are the Republicans, I do think that he could have handled himself better when Brussels was attacked a few weeks ago. I am not sure if he truly should have cut short his tour in Cuba—it was, after all, a groundbreaking visit. However, offering only a few sentences toward the matter and then going to a baseball game was clearly insufficient—Belgium is a member of NATO and a very close ally to the United States (an ally that, it is worth noting, voted to enact Article 5 in the NATO charter after the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001).
I think that it is in the nation’s best interest that the President exert more force in the international arena. Staying quiet on issues like the Brussels attacks and the restart of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not what the leader of the free world ought to be doing. It conveys hesitance on the global stage and also does an injustice to us, his constituency—we depend on his word in order to interpret what happens abroad.