Oct. 20, 2010

In debate, Obama critic says president's actions mirror what McCain would have done

In a debate Oct. 18, shortly before the midterm elections, two experts clearly did not see eye-to-eye on whether President Barack Obama's foreign policy has been a success or a failure.

"There is good news and bad news about President Obama. ... The good news: He has not kept his promises. The bad news: He has not kept his promises," said Max Boot, a Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former John McCain senior political adviser.

He spoke as part of the 2010 Lund Critical Debate in Foreign Policy Series. Sponsored by Cornell's Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the debate in Kennedy Hall's Call Auditorium also included Fred Kaplan, the national security columnist for Slate magazine and a Schwartz senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Peter Katzenstein, the Walter S. Carpenter Jr. Professor of International Studies at Cornell, served as moderator.

Boot argued that while Obama said he would approach issues in an unconventional way, in the end he has produced conventional results.

In rebuttal, Kaplan said, "If every president had to live up to their campaign rhetoric, no president could be seen as a success." He further argued that Obama had actually lived up to many of his campaign promises and that he was approaching his foreign policy differently than presidents before him.

The two disagreed on many issues, including the Iraq war and withdrawal of troops in Iraq. Boot said that the 50,000 troops left in Iraq is another unfulfilled promise. Kaplan noted that Obama never said he wanted to get all the soldiers out, but that there would be "no more combat brigades." The troops that are left are peacekeepers with orders not to initiate conflict, he noted.

As for how Obama has handled Israel and the Middle East, Boot dismissed Israel's unwillingness to freeze construction on new settlements as a non-issue. Kaplan, responding that Israel's unwillingness to freeze construction was in fact a very big issue, described the moratorium on new construction as "a critical piece" of how Obama has handled the conflict.

During the question-and-answer period, Boot didn't rule out voting for Obama in the next election, saying, "It depends on who the other candidate is." He said he has agreed with most of Obama's decisions so far, because he hasn't varied much from what McCain would have done. Kaplan quickly chimed in that the difference between Obama and what McCain would have done is huge.

Graduate student Grady Brimley is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.