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Leaders in Glass Countries Shouldn’t Throw Stones

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Many people probably think the explosive events in Ferguson, Missouri, are a purely domestic issue and have nothing to do with American foreign policy or the U.S. position in the world. That position is understandable, insofar as these events are first and foremost about race relations inside the United States itself, which are largely a product of America’s particular history.

At a minimum, what has been happening in Ferguson (and the protests that broke out in New York and elsewhere following yesterday’s news that a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner) reminds us that race remains a deeply problematic issue here — especially in the context of law enforcement and criminal justice. Not surprisingly, most commentators have focused on what this problem says about America and what the United States needs to do to address it.

 

Yet what has been happening in Ferguson — and in race relations in the United States more generally — does have some noteworthy foreign-policy dimensions. That is also unsurprising, because America’s internal condition inevitably affects its image in the world and the influence it can wield. When the U.S. economy is in trouble, it limits what the United States can do on the world stage. If the federal government is gridlocked or hamstrung by pointless political grandstanding (see under: Benghazi) the United States will act with less energy and wisdom abroad. And if minorities in the U.S. population are still marginalized, discriminated against, and treated as less-than-equal, then America’s full potential will be unrealized and its moral authority will be compromised in the eyes of many foreign observers.