Studying foreign policy and diplomacy as an American in a foreign country is complicated enough. Add in the minor detail that I am in the Navy and it becomes a whole new ballgame. For a lot of my classmates, I am the first member of the US military that they have met. Because of this, they are demanding some answers. They want to know why the United States invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, why the United States intervened in Haiti in 1994, or why President Johnson called for escalation in Vietnam in 1965? To respond to these remarkably complex questions from my point of view I start by saying, “Well… I was not alive in 1965. I was learning how to ride a bike in 1994, and as for Iraq and Afghanistan; I’m sorry to say that I did not have the ear of the president as a teenager.” I then go on to explain that I am a student just as they are, and we are all on the quest for answers. The problem with answers is that they are hard to come by. My academic experience prior to this year had been almost entirely technical. I could find the displacement of a hull, I could solve that differential equation, and I could get the answers to the problems placed before me. This year, answers have been quite hard to find, and if it exists, they are ambiguous at best. The best we can do is read, listen, and never stop looking for the answers.
A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture by a former UN peacekeeper and election monitor. He delivered his two-hour lecture in the form of a collection of stories, each one more inspiring and impressive than the last. However, there was a common thread woven through each story. At some point in each one, an American contingent would enter and screw up everything. Like a bull in a china shop, the US forces would set the international peace keeping mission back several months. At the end of his lecture he said, “I suppose I should have asked this at the beginning, but are there any Americans here?” I slowly raised my hand, to which he said, “oh I apologize, surely I must have offended you. May I ask what you are doing for employment after this year of study?” To which, my classmates began laughing. The thing was, I wasn’t offended at all. One of the reasons I came to Ireland to study is to get a different perspective, to hear criticism of the US, and to develop a better understanding of the international system. With three weeks of class left, I can safely say that I have done just that. I have developed a better foundation of knowledge. I have adopted a different understanding of the global system. Finally, I learned US foreign policy from an international perspective, which is something that will prove invaluable in the coming years.