“From wherever you stood, the opposing side offered respectable, credible views. In today's fractured culture the evening struck a blow for civility.”
- The Huffington Post
September 01, 2015
That tension between steadfast principles and hard realities, both at home and abroad, was on display when some of America’s leading foreign-policy thinkers gathered for a retreat hosted by the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan education and policy organization, in August. The conference’s main event was an hourlong debate about ISIS. Each debate team featured two national-security officials from the Bush and Obama administrations. One team, Philip Zelikow, a former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Michèle Flournoy, Obama’s former defense undersecretary of defense for policy, argued that ISIS should be defeated, including through military means. The other team, Dov Zakheim, Bush’s former Defense Department comptroller and foreign-policy adviser, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Obama’s director of policy planning for the State Department, argued that it should be contained until it collapsed under the weight of its own failed ideology, as occurred with the Soviet Union. Among the 200 spectators were the retired general David Petraeus, the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Jeb Bush’s outside adviser, Richard Fontaine.
The debate was spirited and replete with unintended ironies. There was Flournoy, the former Obama official, arguing the traditional neocon position that the only way to give the lie to ISIS’s ideology was to ‘‘take territory away from ISIS.’’ And there was Zakheim, the former Bush official, sounding decidedly noninterventionist: ‘‘The issue is, can you and are you willing to send in hundreds of thousands of troops? Do you think this country wants to do that? Do you think we even want to spend money to do that?’’
Zakheim’s realpolitik warning hit the audience like a bucket of cold water. Even the nation’s most intellectually rigorous foreign-policy thinkers seemed struck by the challenge of convincing the American public that war against ISIS would not entail a horrific reprise of the Iraq war. Surveyed before the debate began, 52 percent of attendees believed that ISIS should be destroyed, with 27 percent saying it should be contained and another 21 percent being undecided. After the debate, the audience underwent a reversal: 59 percent were now convinced that the proper course of action was to contain ISIS rather than to pour blood and treasure into an attempt to destroy it.
September 01, 2015
That the debate surrounding ISIS seems confused was recently echoed in an actual debate on the topic. The folks at Intelligence Squared U.S. recently held a formal Oxford Union-style debate at the Aspen Security Forum. The proposition being debated was “Containment is not enough: ISIS must be defeated.” The outcome wasn’t surprising, but the arguments were. All four debaters agreed that ISIS had to be fought—militarily, ideologically, and in what stands for public opinion these days: social media. The only real question was: What is America’s role?
May 30, 2015
On Tuesday evening, I attended a debate in New York City sponsored by Intelligence Squared U.S. focusing on whether or not Obama’s Iran deal is good for the country. (The podcast is available at the website.)
On the pro side of the debate (for more complete bios on the debaters, visit the iQ2 website) was Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former special assistant to the president, and White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region. He was joined by Thomas Pickering, currently vice chairman of an international consulting firm but more notable for his time served as a diplomat in various ambassadorships including to the U.N.
May 30, 2015
Intelligence Squared US arranged one of its excellent debates on the upper West Side of Manhattan this week. The debate had as its subject the merits of President Obama’s pending arrangement with Iran. Addressing the proposition that the deal is good for the United States, the debate matched Philip Gordon and Amb. Thomas Pickering (for the affirmative) with Michael Doran and Mark Dubowitz (for the negative), with moderator John Donvan cracking the whip in impressive fashion. The audience votes on the proposition before and after the debate; the team that maximally moves the dial is declared the winner.
May 29, 2015
In the heart of blue America — New York City — Mark Dubowitz and Mike Doran debated Philip Gordon and Thomas Pickering on whether the Iran deal is good for the United States. The way these things work is that the side that moves opinion the most from pre- to post-debate polling wins. In this case, Dubowitz and Doran won, moving opinion against the deal from 19 to 43 percent. The deal defenders gained just 13 points (from 37 to 50 percent).
The debate is hugely instructive and entertaining and can be viewed in its entirety, but I will note some high points and try to draw some lessons for future debates in and outside Congress.
May 21, 2015
Q: You seemed to argue at an intelligence squared debate, that the US cannot be the world police anymore. How does this notion fit into your idea of an Indispensable America?
Bremmer: I did argue that (though they assign you the position... and any good debater should be able to analytically handle that). But I think Indispensable America is becoming much more challenging. US allies are less capable/willing to support. US adversaries are more willing to challenge. And the willingness of the American people to pay the tab in blood and treasure is decreasing. I'd be much more comfortable with Indispensable America if I believed we could actually follow through on it.
February 13, 2015
Immigration and innovation will enable America to maintain its position as a superpower, experts say, despite policy mistakes made along the way.
Are America's best days behind it? Or should the world continue to bet on its future as a global superpower?
That was the subject of a spirited, four-person debate this week in New York City at the Kaufman Music Center, the 100th in a series called Intelligence Squared. Over the past decade, the debate event, sponsored by the public policy and education organization Rosenkranz Foundation, has featured a variety of experts weighing in on pressing topics of the day, such as the U.S.'s Middle East policy, genetically modified food, and the ethics of fracking, among other things.
July 22, 2014
In the fall of 2007 I participated in a debate in New York on the question of whether Russia was again becoming an enemy of the United States. I argued it was.
"We worry about political trends within Russia," I said in my closing statement, "not just because we are friends of democracy, human rights, freedom, the rule of law, but also because the respect that governments have for their own people tend to correlate with their attitude and behavior vis-a-vis the outside world.”
April 15, 2014
The essence of due process, as Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman recently argued at an Intelligence Squared debate, is that “the government would not kill its own citizens without a trial.” That derived from the English Magna Carta of 1215, and the Framers of the U.S. Constitution had such a history in mind when, in the Fifth Amendment, they wrote that no one may “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
So this seems like an easy issue: The Constitution is clear that due process is required before the federal government takes a citizen’s life. But in many cases, that would fly in the face of common sense.
Professor Alan Dershowitz pointed out in the same debate that a bank robber firing at police as he flees is not entitled to a trial before police can shoot back at him. This exception is widened in the case of war, which is why the laws of war have never required a prior hearing before incapacitating an enemy combatant that is on the battlefield.
March 06, 2014
Last night at the National Constitutional Center, NPR’s Intelligence Squared hosted a debate for broadcast on the limits of executive power, specifically is the president exceeding the constitutional powers of his office when, absent due process, he orders a fatal drone strike on an American citizen living abroad who is suspected of aiding or abetting terror plots that would harm American citizens or the homeland. Such was the case with the fatal drone strike executed against Anwar Al-Awlaki, a charismastic Imam and advocate for Jihad who was born in New Mexico.
The specific question being debated was not whether or not drone strikes are moral or legal, or even useful for advancing U.S. Foreign policy objectives, it was whether or not the president violated the constitutional rights of this particular American citizen. As per the premise of the show, the audience is polled about whether they are for or against the motion before the debate begins then again at the end. Before the debate, the audience vote tally was: 29% for, 44% against with 27% undecided.
March 04, 2014
Famed criminal defense lawyer, retired Harvard Law School professor and cable news gadfly Alan Dershowitz will be at the National Constitution Center tomorrow to debate the legality and ethics of drone strikes on American citizens. In advance of tomorrow’s debate, we got Mr. Dershowitz on the horn. DISCUSSED: When it’s OK for the President of the United States to order the assassination of an American citizen; his theory of a “Continuum Of Civilianality; why he is advocating for the court-supervised use of torture in so-called ticking time bomb situations; Zionism and how to resolved the Israeli-Palestinian crisis; is Edward Snowden a hero or villain; is mass surveillance of all American citizens constitutional under the Fourth Amendment; is O.J. Simpson innocent or guilty?
PHAWKER: Tomorrow, you’ll be at the National Constitution Center for the Intelligence Squared Debate. You’ll be arguing that President Obama was within the legal limits of executive power when he ordered the fatal drone strike on New Mexico-born Jihadist rabble-rouser Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. You will argue that the President can order the assassination of an American citizen absent any due process if he’s suspected of aiding and abetting the terrorists abroad in the killing of Americans. Can you summarize your argument for us?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Yes. I think that both international law and American constitutional law simply requires that the President determine under his war-power authority that the person targeted is a legitimate combatant, not a civilian. That’s the important line – the line is between combatant and non-combatant...
March 02, 2014
Both these short articles appeared in the Mail on Sunday today. My friend Ed Lucas (a fellow former Moscow Correspondent and now a distinguished writer for the Economist) and I also hope to discuss this matter in New York City on Wednesday 12th March, at a debate organised by Intelligence Squared.
My view: We have been rubbing Russia up the wrong way for nearly 25 years...
March 02, 2014
The president has the constitutional authority to target American citizens overseas.
This authority is derived from his war-making power as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. But this does not mean that the president has unfettered discretion to strike anyone he chooses.
The executive's war-making power is checked by the Founding Fathers' reservation in Congress of the power to declare war. The executive may not use this power unless authorized to do so by Congress.
March 02, 2014
The White House is once again weighing whether to kill an American citizen overseas as part of its "targeted killing" program.
This extrajudicial killing program should make every American queasy. Based on largely secret legal standards and entirely secret evidence, our government has killed thousands of people. At least several hundred were killed far from any battlefield. Four of the dead are Americans. Astonishingly, President Obama's Justice Department has said the courts have no role in deciding whether the killing of U.S. citizens far from any battlefield is lawful.
The president, it seems, can be judge, jury, and executioner.
February 15, 2014
The Volokh Conspiracy’s Nicholas Rosenkranz links to the “particularly lively” Intelligence Squared debate this week in New York City: “Resolved: Snowden Was Justified.” Arguing for the motion were Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who delivered the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other media outlets in 1971; and Ben Wizner, legal adviser to Edward Snowden and attorney for the ACLU. Arguing against the motion were Andrew C. McCarthy, the guy who prosecuted the Blind Sheikh; and Ambassador R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA and chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
February 12, 2014
A New York audience devoted nearly two hours yesterday evening to a riveting Intelligence Squared debate about Edward Snowden and the surveillance regime that his disclosures revealed.
The motion up for debate was "Snowden Was Justified." Arguing for the motion were Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, and Ben Wizner, Edward Snowden's legal advisor and the director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. They debated Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, and Ambassador R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director. A pre-debate vote revealed the audience's feelings on the whistleblower to be evenly split, with 29 percent for the motion, 29 percent against, and 42 percent undecided.
Unsurprisingly, Ben and Daniel won, decisively. In a fascinating back-and-forth, they demonstrated why we're all better off after Snowden, in a world with a window into a once-secret regime that everyone – including all three branches of government – is now debating out in the open.
November 22, 2013
It couldn't be more black or white than this: "Spy on me, I'd rather be safe."
That was the proposition before two teams of debaters at the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate held Wednesday night in Washington, D.C. Defending the proposition were two former homeland security officials Richard Falkenrath and Stewart Baker. Opposing the motion were the ACLU's very own Senior Policy Counsel Michael German and Georgetown Law Professor David Cole.
By the end of the debate, the civil libertarians decidedly ruled the day, moving 21 percent of the audience to their side and achieving a 62 percent majority against the proposition, "Spy on me, I'd rather be safe."
There's something to take from this, even if you dismiss it as wonky fun. When pro-surveillance advocates are pitted against civil libertarians who not only argue against dragnet surveillance on principle but because it simply doesn't work, the fear wanes and people see mass surveillance for what it is: unconstitutional and un-American.
As German, a former undercover FBI agent, made clear, the idea that a balance must be struck between liberty and security is a false choice. The procedural safeguards—such as reasonable suspicion and probable cause—that govern how government agents do their jobs doesn't only protect our liberties and privacy, it makes them better investigators who better protect the public from violent threats.
January 22, 2013
NEW YORK - Politicians running for office may have succeeded in avoiding substantive discussion of some of the most pivotal issues facing Israel – such as whether it can tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran – but New Yorkers were jostling for space at a debate that allowed some of America's and Israel's prominent observers on the matter to air their views.
December 10, 2012
This issue came up in an interesting debate for Intelligence Squared U.S. in early October when Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress argued, “Better elected Islamists than dictators,” while Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and I made the counter-argument. Well, no one really argued “for” anyone. The other team did not endorse Islamists and we certainly did not celebrate dictators. The issue, rather, was which sort of ruler is the lesser of two evils, and can be cudgeled toward democracy.
October 12, 2012
Recently, Intelligence Squared, a feisty forum in New York, held a debate on the proposition “Better Elected Islamists Than Dictators,” referring to the choices the United States confronts in the Middle East. The lead speaker for the proposition was a prominent conservative intellectual, Reuel Marc Gerecht. The lead speaker against was . . . a prominent conservative intellectual, Daniel Pipes. That’s a reflection of the state of conservative thought on the issue.
October 05, 2012
A reader directs our attention to the Intelligence Squared debate putting the proposition before the house: Better elected Islamists than dictators. For the affirmative are Reuel Marc Gerecht and Brian Katulus. For the negative are Daniel Pipes and Zuhdi Jasser.
October 05, 2012
Intelligence Squared U.S. continued its Fall 2012 season with a sold out debate and a victory against the motion "Better Elected Islamists than Dictators." In the final tally, Daniel Pipes and M. Zuhdi Jasser won the Oxford-style debate by convincing 16% of the audience to change their minds and oppose the motion. After the debate, 47% of audience members agreed that elected Islamists would not evolve Middle Eastern political systems, up from 31% pre-debate.
April 20, 2012
Georgette Mosbacher, Bruce Kovner and other assorted policy wonks chuckled at last week's IQ2US debate when the International Crisis Group's Karim Sadjadpour tried to give his neocon opponent Bill Kristol a compliment. "When I was in high school, I used to watch you on TV with total admiration," said Sadjadpour, whose team argued in favor of the U.S. tolerating a nuclear Iran. "You were so thoughtful, so sensible. ... I thought for sure you were a liberal." Kristol's team had the last laugh, defeating the nuke proposition. ...
April 17, 2012
[Commentary magazine quotes Ian Bremmer from an IQ2US debate on China.] …As Nocera notes, our dedication to the rule of law is a big reason this law would be effective. And it’s not just Russians. Last month, at Intelligence Squared U.S.’s debate on China and capitalism, Ian Bremmer said the same thing: “We got to watch what people do, not what people say, what they do. Did you see that piece in the Wall Street Journal, talked about the disposition of Chinese millionaires, how over 50 percent of Chinese millionaires say they prefer to live in the United States than China?…”
April 15, 2012
Cyber warfare is a hot topic in the security industry, but what does this term actually mean? At what point does a cyber conflict become a cyber war? Are cyber threats, cyber attacks and cyber espionage acts of cyber war? Many of these questions need to be discussed – and that discussion is about to take place.
March 16, 2012
Last week Intelligence Squared hosted a debate on whether China does capitalism better than the United States does. The result was a resounding no, and a strong audience endorsement of the notion that China is more paper tiger than dragon on the rise.
March 15, 2012
“We got to know who has all the cards in this relationship. It is not the U.S., because China is the biggest creditor and we are the debtor,” Peter Schiff, CEO and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital Inc, said after a televised debate on China and the US economy hosted by Intelligence Squared in New York.
March 13, 2012
About three-fourths of the way through Tuesday’s Slate/Intelligence Squared Oxford-style debate on whether China does capitalism better than America, one audience member stood up to request a clarification of terms. How, she asked the panelists on stage, do you define capitalism? She struck a nerve.
March 13, 2012
Last night, Intelligence Squared U.S. continued its spring 2012 season with a sold-out debate and a victory against the motion “China Does Capitalism Better than America.” In the final tally, Ian Bremmer and Minxin Pei won the Oxford-style debate by convincing 35% of the audience to change their minds and oppose the motion. In the largest margin in IQ2US history, 85% of audience members agreed post-debate that China does not employ a more successful capitalist system than the United States, up from 50% pre-debate.
March 04, 2012
Four Sinologists, economists, writers, and policy advisers will tackle these questions at the next Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. live debate on March 13 at NYU’s Skirball Center in New York City.