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Obama’s Foreign Policy Is a Failure

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  • Was Syria a Moral Failure?

    Clip: Debaters Eliot Cohen, Vikram Singh, and Kristen Silverberg discuss whether President Obama's choice not to intervene more in Syria was a uniquely moral failure.

  • Volley Round: Blaming George W. Bush

    Clip: Debater Derek Chollet challenges the team arguing for the motion to explain what President Obama could have done differently, given the foreign policy situation he inherited from George W. Bush.

  • Obama and Drones

    Clip: Debaters Derek Chollet and Eliot Cohen consider the legacy of President Obama's drone program.

  • The Iraq Quagmire

    Clip: Debater Kristen Silverberg explains why President Obama's attempted withdrawal from Iraq was a failure.

  • The Migration Crisis

    Clip: Debater Derek Chollet discusses what the United States has done and is able to do to stem the global refugee crisis.

Debate Details

For many, Obama’s presidency will be defined by its accomplishments.  Taking out Osama bin Laden, disengaging from fights in the Middle East that America cannot win, defusing the threat of a nuclear Iran, and refocusing our attention and resources to Asia, where our greatest opportunities and biggest long-term challenges are located.  But for others, it has been marked by missteps and retreat—pulling back where action and leadership was needed, and presiding over policies that strengthened our adversaries and disheartened our friends.   Has Obama’s foreign policy been a success?  

The Debaters

For the motion

Eliot Cohen

Professor of Strategic Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University

Eliot Cohen is Robert E. Osgood Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He directs the strategic... Read More

Kristen Silverberg

Former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union

Kristen Silverberg served as U.S. ambassador to the European Union from 2008 to 2009 and as assistant secretary of state for international organization... Read More

Against the motion

Derek Chollet

Executive Vice President, The German Marshall Fund of the United States & Fmr. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense

Derek Chollet is a veteran of the Obama administration, where he served six years in senior positions at the White House, State Department, and the... Read More

Vikram Singh

Vice President, National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress

Vikram J. Singh is the vice president for national security and international policy at American Progress. Previously, he served as the deputy assistant... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • America's standing in the world and American security have both deteriorated under Obama's policy of retreat.
  • The president has strained our relationships with allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, while embracing enemies like Iran.
  • He has repeatedly signaled to our adversaries that red lines and bad behavior will be ignored, when effective diplomacy requires the real threat of action to back it up.
  • The Middle East is now worse off than when Obama first entered office.
Against The Motion
  • Obama has used restraint when faced with hard choices, moving away from the "playbook" of default militarized response.
  • Proponents of more muscular intervention in the Middle East ignore the risk of getting mired in further conflict, and overestimate our ability to influence the region's trajectory. 
  • The killing of Osama bin Laden,the Iran deal, the Paris climate agreement, restored relations with Cuba are all evidence of success.
  • After inheriting two wars and a financial crisis, Obama will leave office having made America safer.

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The Research

The Research

Obama’s Failed Foreign Policy

November 1, 2012

The Obama administration entered office with a theory of foreign policy that has failed the test of practice.

President Obama's Foreign Policy Legacy

September 6, 2016

Derek Chollet offers analysis of President Obama’s foreign policy during his two terms in office, and argues that the president would be remembered as one of the most deft on foreign policy.

The Obama Doctrine

Jeffrey Goldberg
April 1, 2016

The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.

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