Does President Barack Obama deserve to be re-elected on the merits of his foreign policy decisions?
That was the question at the center of a panel discussion hosted by the International Studies Program and the JHU Politik in a packed Gilman Hall atrium last Thursday evening, Oct. 25. The speakers, Steven David, Professor of Political Science and Vice-Dean for Undergraduate Education; Daniel Deudney, Associate Professor of Political Science; and Colin Dueck, associate professor of public and international affairs at the George Mason University, engaged in an energetic give-and-take, offering differing assessments of the Obama administration’s foreign policy and answering wide-ranging questions from the audience.
“I think we had 250 people there, which I was very pleased with,” senior Jeremy Orloff, Editor-in-Chief of JHU Politik, said. With barely two weeks to go until election day, the standing-room only crowd exceeded the expectations of both Orloff, who moderated the panel discussion, and Julia Galan, associate director of the International Studies Program.
“It exceeded our expectations... I thought we had a real discussion, the panelists interacted and responded to each other throughout the event, we covered a wide range of topics from three fairly different perspectives. Perhaps the best part of the evening was the way in which student questions drove the discussion for the second half,” Orloff said.
“The event was a huge success. I'd like to see Hopkins have more events like this, and I was significantly impressed by how many people came out. Hopkins is usually so apolitical, so apathetic, so boring, but this event definitely impressed me with how many students came out as the questions they asked and that most of them stayed there the whole time,” senior Jacob Wildfire said.
“I’ve seen both Professors David and Deudney before, [but] I thought Professor Dueck was a different perspective and I really appreciated that,” sophomore Nick Birnbaum said. “I love they took the effort to find someone who thought a little differently.”
All of the panelists dismissed the controversy over the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya as being peripheral to the Obama administration’s foreign policy while focusing on the importance of domestic policy to foreign policy and broadly agreeing on a wide variety of topics.
“A number of the questions from the audience got to that point because it is really hard to politicize defense policy and security policy. I think the points of agreement were analytical in nature, for example they all agreed that everyone in Congress and any administration going forward is going to support drone strikes and a policy of directed killing. While they agreed on their analysis they disagreed on whether or not it was good or bad strategy in the long term,” Orloff said.
“What I like is that I think Obama has handled the big problems pretty well,” David said, giving the Obama administration credit for both working with and standing up to China, signing a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, killing Osama bin Laden, enacting tough sanctions on Iran and for the intervention in Libya, while faulting the administration for its policy with regards to Syria, its lack of engagement with the Israeli people, and for not ending the War in Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Dueck, the more conservative panelist, faulted the Obama administration for putting domestic policy ahead of foreign policy.
“The way to retrench is to close the gap between capabilities and commitments, which means you either have to boost your capabilities or scale back your commitments, and in some cases Obama has scaled back on commitments and scaled back on capabilities at the same time,” Dueck said.
Deudney, taking a more liberal stance, said that the Obama administration’s work on nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear material containment, putting climate change on the agenda, ending the Iraq War, and pushing a sweeping progressive domestic agenda to strengthen the United States’ position abroad merited more praise.
“I already knew a lot about it but it gave me a [good] framework to think about Obama’s foreign policy [which I didn’t have] in the past,” said Birnbaum. “I think the questions contributed a lot and fleshed it out more than in the first part.”
“I would like to say I wished they had spoken more on the expansion or limitation of our military. I think I heard two opposing views specifically dealing with the navy and I think that would have been an interesting conversation to be had,” Wildfire said.
Orloff noted the University’s support of the event.
“In organizing this event, there was an enormous amount of help from the University, from the admissions department to the communications department we were aided in pulling together an event in a space that hasn’t been previously used for an event like this,” Orloff said.
“Professors David and Deudney have done events with us in the past, widely attended, and this is an example of how student groups, departments, and professors can work together to raise the level of debate and discussion on campus,” he said.