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Obama's Foreign Policy Spells America's Decline

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  • Highlight: Obama's Foreign Policy

    Clip: Debaters argue the motion "Obama's Foreign Policy Spells America's Decline."

Debate Details

What might Machiavelli have made of the 44th President of the United States? Barack Obama set out to change the tone of US foreign policy. And he did. By virtue of his personal story, by dint of his not being George W. Bush, he arrived in the White House as both object of fascination and source of relief to a world grown accustomed to resenting the US itself. Here is a president who acknowledges that we hold no monopoly on the legitimacy of our interests, who aspires to finding the common ground in resolving disagreements with friend and foe. His caution, his deliberativeness, his stated willingness to at least try to negotiate even with our bitterest enemies and to cool down the rhetoric – played so well out of the gate, that they gave him the Nobel Peace Prize – after just 262 days in office. But is love enough to lead? Or might the president need some wins along the way? For the most part, they’ve been hard to come by. None yet in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Iran’s mullahs don’t seem to feel an urgent need to end the nuclear standoff. Seeking a new balance in America’s dealings in the Middle East, Obama asked Israel to stop building settlements, but the building goes on. And the Chinese seem to understand his less than aggressive stance in pressing for human rights as a green light to change nothing. Even when the stakes were less than life and death – his bid to bring the Olympics to Chicago – he was denied. Not that any of this is easy. And it may be that some of these more serious challenges would by now be more difficult still if Obama had not set a new tone. But might the opposite be true? Might our adversaries see the president’s coolness as uncertainty and his deliberativeness as weakness? Can they exploit his affinity for common ground, by pushing to gain more ground for themselves? By acknowledging that all sides can have legitimate interests, as well as legitimate grievances, is the president yielding the high ground? Most importantly, are we safer now that we are living in the era of president number 44? It comes down to being respected, which is not the same as being liked. Americans have always aspired to have it both ways. Machiavelli would have us choose.

The Debaters

For the motion

Dan Senor

Founding Partner, Rosemont Capital

An expert on Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and Middle East and Persian Gulf geopolitics, security, and economics, is adjunct senior fellow... Read More

Mort Zuckerman

Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News & World Report

Mort Zuckerman is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News & World Report and Publisher of the New York Daily News. He is also the co-founder... Read More

Against the motion

Wesley Clark

Four-Star General as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.

Served thirty-four years in the United States Army and rose to the rank of four-star general as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. After his... Read More

Bernard-Henri Levy

French Philosopher & Journalist

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a philosopher, activist, and filmmaker. His most recent book, The Genius of Judaism, was published in January 2017 by Random... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Obama has slighted numerous American allies and brought into question not only the strength of American alliances, but the fate of existing international organizations.
  • The Obama administration has stepped back from America’s traditional role as a dominant global leader and allowed the growth of Russia and China, weakening the United States both at home and abroad.
  • Under President Obama, the United States has failed to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions and it has failed to invest the resources necessary to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, thus contributing to the ongoing destabilization of the Middle East. 
Against The Motion
  • Since President Obama took office, the U.S. has enacted a series of stabilizing measures in the Middle East, including extending the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, increasing troop presence in Afghanistan, and galvanizing the United Nations to increase sanctions on Iran.
  • The Obama administration rightfully embraced the role of other nations in global leadership and reduced international distrust of American leadership and interests.
  • Under Obama, the United States has been at the forefront of calls to unify the world in combating shared challenges, including climate change and nuclear proliferation. 

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The Research

The Research

Obama's Focus Abroad Shifts from the People to their Leaders

Scott Wilson
March 30, 2010

The Responsibilities are Mutual

David Shorr
April 16, 2010

Obama's Foreign Policy

Henry R. Nay
May 1, 2010
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