In the modern day, the news media has enormous power in shaping public opinion. The public acquire factual information from it along with such information's perceived importance as emphasized by its source. News of interest is highlighted while that which matters least is tucked in a convenient and less conspicuous way. Newspapers carry lead stories in banner headlines to attract readership and devote lengthy commentary about news of interest. Television news devotes more time to issues of perceived importance. These highlight the importance of a topic to the public. Such news are followed by invitations for comment on their respective blogs where the public is free to weigh in. In this way, the news media is able to set the agenda and call for public attention to issues of their own choosing around which public opinion coalesces.
In his book titled Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann (1922) noted that the news media is the single most important source of the pictures we hold in our heads regarding public affairs. He contends that the news media feeds our minds and what is not in the news it is left out of debate. It therefore goes without saying that what populates our mind is what the news media feeds us with. It also means that this selective presentation by the media strongly influences the priorities of the public and what is prioritized in the media agenda will inevitably becomes prioritized in the minds of the public. Public agenda in this case doesn't mean a premeditated goal but rather it is used in a descriptive sense to mean the focus of public attention.
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Modern day news media is even more far reaching. With the advent of mobile telephony and emergence of online social networks, access to information and the issues behind the news is easy, fast and cheap. Today's media offers space for comments and opinions. In the past, policy elites faced less pressure from mass media in their work partly due to the fact that access to news was not as widespread today. That meant that they would easily shape news agenda and expect little backlash. Today, foreign policy formulation is a more difficult engagement than before given the enormous weight that the news media exerts on the process through shaping public opinion.
The implication of these is that before the foreign policy goals are defined, there is real risk of shaping them to please the public at the expense of a nations long term strategic interests. The policy experts may be driven by short term swings in public opinion as informed by the news media. For instance, intense coverage of Saddam's Iraq and his alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction may have shaped the policies leading to the push to wage war in Iraq ad oust him. In that sense, the policies may be pleasing and self-serving in the short term but costly and injurious in the long term.
The foreign policy expert needs to be aware of such vulnerabilities and act to limit such in the long term. This can be done through giving information on the wider picture that is often conveniently left out by the media. Sponsoring short documentaries to air pertinent issues that inform the public of the facts behind certain policies can serve to shed light on the highlighted issues and developments undertaken. Most importantly, the policy elites should take the news constructively and not defensively and should refrain from attacking the media for any revelations. Appearing to refute would only serve to attract public attention to such issues. Offering factual, balanced and timely briefings to the media on the issues behind the news would serve to reassure the public that the state is watchful of developments and would act in the best interest of its people. The policy professional should strive to stay ahead of the news so that in the event that concerns are raised, s/he can respond to them in an informed way. .
War is caused and by a variety of factors acting mostly in complex combination. Rummel (25) identified the major factors that lead to war among nations. First, for nations to engage in war, there must be opposing interests and interest as informed by social economic and cultural differences between the two. Then, there has to be a point of contact and/or salience where the awareness of the opposing interests become manifest. He further states that the principal determinants of propensity of war and/or peace among states as the power of the leader, the freedom of the citizenry, disrupted expectations, preparedness to accept change, the nations perceptions and expectation of war as well as social cultural distances. The presence of these factors needs not guarantee the start of a war. Rather, it is triggered by the perception of threat, opportunity or injustice as well as presence of a decentralized, weak or coercive state power. Once underway, a war is aggravated by perception of difference in status, imbalance in cognition, social-cultural dissimilarity and egoistic drive.
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The United States is more predisposed to war than most states in the world. This is partly because of its military might and superpower status in the world. The people of the United States are a risk taking lot and will vote for governments that will champion their interests including fighting those perceived as a threat. Given its enormous trade and military linkages around the world, it is inevitable that conflicts elsewhere will almost always hurt its interests. Internally, war veterans are regarded as heroes and commended for making sacrifices for the nation. Those serving in the army are encouraged to act boldly in the defense of their country's interests. Hardly does a presidential speech pass without the mention of past wars and conquests and readiness to engage in war again for the defense of its ideals. As compared to a country like Japan, very little war rhetoric is heard from its leaders despite having comparable economic interests everywhere in the world. Therefore it is true that some nation's internal characteristics predispose it to war or lasting peace.
These factors can be seen at play in the United States war with Iraq and Afghanistan. Culturally, the Americans value freedom and every aspect of their lives can be defined in terms of freedom. On the other hand, the Arabs in Iraq value control and repression. The Americans are keen to export their values to the world, sometimes using less than ideal means that undermine sitting governments. Such opposing interest set the stage for the propaganda campaign in Iraq to shape public opinion in favor of war. However, that alone couldn't justify the invasion of Iraq and therefore an appeal was made to the threat that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Also, past injustices meted out to his own people cast a picture of a ruthless dictator who can launch such weapons to America and Israel, a key American ally. That pulled the trigger for Iraq war (Shaw, 116).
Once underway, other issues pertinent to the war emerged. The wider Arab nations read malice and ill will among them. The perception of an imperial aggressor out to siphon their God given oil wealth caught up. Each of the two warring nations had an inflated sense of what they could achieve. While the Iraq army couldn't withstand America's huge firepower, they knew that they would inflict significant harm if they turned into an insurgency. The war quickly turned from a preemptive strike to that of ideologies with some quarters in Arab media portraying it as an attack on their faith and imposition of Christianity.
It is evident from the foregoing that the American culture of taking risk and struggling to remain on top of predispose her to conflict. Also, its economic might extending to all corners of the world (both in search of markets and raw materials) expose it to conflict with other systems of governance different from its own (Feuer, 97). Lastly, its historical values of freedom and opportunity obligate it to defend the weak in the world and to voice their concerns and often times, act on their behalf. Lastly, its historical association with most nations across the world such as Israel and East Asian economies like South Korea and Japan predispose it to war. These associations are necessary to feed its economy with raw materials and markets( Briggs, 79).