Segments in this Video

Introduction: Obama's Foreign Policy Failure Debate (03:57)


Moderator John Donvan welcomes Intelligence Squared Chairman Robert Rosenkranz. Rosenkranz cites Truman's Marshall Plan and Reagan's Cold War policies as foreign policy successes. He thinks the debate should be viewed from a historic perspective.

Debate "Housekeeping" (05:54)

Donvan states the motion, explains the debate format, and introduces panelists for each side.

For the Motion: Kristen Silverberg (06:19)

Former U.S. Ambassador to the E.U., Silverberg asks audience members to judge Obama's foreign policy separately from his presidency. She argues that the Syrian war is a strategic disaster, will threaten national security, and has undermined U.S. credibility. She identifies flaws in the Iran nuclear arms control deal.

Against the Motion: Derek Chollet (06:02)

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Chollet asks audience members to judge whether Obama improved on the foreign policy he inherited. He argues that Obama has restored the economy, reduced the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan, elevated diplomacy and development, and pursued terrorism while ending torture— goals he set in 2008.

For the Motion: Eliot Cohen (06:46)

John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies professor, Cohen argues that Obama's "Russian reset" policy has failed; he has not ended war in Iraq yet started one in Libya; and he has failed to shut Guantanamo Bay. North Korean and Russian nuclear programs are increasingly threatening.

Against the Motion: Vikram Singh (06:44)

Center for American Progress National Security and International Policy Vice President, Singh argues that Obama's nuclear deal in Iran was successful, and highlights his leadership addressing climate change at the 2015 Paris talks. Sanctions against Russia over Crimea are effective, and the world views America favorably.

Syria Red Line Question (08:39)

Donvan summarizes arguments from both sides. Eliot Cohen argues that Obama's failure to enforce military policies has weakened America's reputation. Derek Chollet explains that when Assad used chemical weapons in August 2013, Obama used diplomacy to eliminate those weapons. Kristen Silverberg counters that Assad has since used chemical weapons.

Overall Foreign Policy Record (04:24)

Vikram Singh and Derek Chollet argue that we are better off militarily and America has stronger alliances than in 2008. Eliot Cohen argues that Obama’s failure to conduct policies with Congressional consent will result in Trump repealing them.

Iraq Situation (04:27)

Vikram Singh says Obama has improved relations in Asia; America is working with Iraq to fight ISIS, rather than re-invading. Kristin Silverberg argues that U.S. military strategy in Iraq is failing. Derek Chollet argues that Obama created a more financially sustainable military situation.

American Influence on the World (07:33)

Eliot Cohen states that U.S. influence is minimal in Russia, and weakening in Asia. Vikram Singh argues that Obama's mutual defense commitment to Japan and partnerships with Southeast Asian countries have improved Asia Pacific relations. Derek Chollet believes Russia interfered with the election to stop Obama's policies from continuing.

QA: Declining Globalism (04:42)

Derek Chollet believes Obama’s foreign policy allows the U.S. to deal with globalization challenges. Eliot Cohen argues Trump's election is due in part to Obama's identity politics, while Vikram Singh blames Republicans for courting extremists. Kristen Silverberg says Obama ran against trade in 2008, fueling anti-trade sentiment.

QA: Drone Program (03:52)

Derek Chollet says Obama's strategy has successfully targeted terrorists abroad. Eliot Cohen argues that Obama's failure to frame the threat as a minority of Islam has led Trump to call all Muslims enemies.

QA: Relations with Israel (03:30)

Kristen Silverberg argues that Obama's extreme view on settlements soured relations early on; Derek Chollet states that the U.S.-Israeli security relationship is stronger than ever. Silverberg and Vikram Singh disagree whether Obama misunderstood that Israel was aligning with the Arab world against Iran and terrorism.

QA: Migration Crisis (05:07)

Derek Chollet says the U.S. has not taken in enough refugees, but is a major humanitarian donor. Eliot Cohen argues that Obama's lack of action in Syria is causing the crisis. Kristen Silverberg provides strategic military examples for limiting Assad's power. Chollet warns against starting a new Iraq.

QA: Moral Issues and Foreign Policy (07:17)

Eliot Cohen and Kristen Silverberg argue that Obama's inaction has resulted in mass atrocities and millions of displaced people. Vikram Singh says that removing Assad could have led to worse consequences, and cites interventions in Libya and Iraq that prevented other mass atrocities.

Volley Round (03:15)

Derek Chollet asks his opponents to consider the foreign policy Obama inherited from Bush. Eliot Cohen says Obama made poor decisions in Iraq, Syria, and Russia. Vikram Singh says he successfully reduced troops in the Middle East. Kristen Silverberg says he failed to accomplish his own foreign policy goals.

Closing Statement For: Kristen Silverberg (01:41)

Silverberg cites examples of long lasting foreign policies from Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower. She argues that Obama's Iran deal, Cuba agreement, and climate change accord will not stand the test of time.

Closing Statement Against: Derek Chollet (02:15)

Chollet brings up Obama's own desire to emulate Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush's foreign policies in terms of world leadership, pursuing balance, and sustainability. He argues that they shared patience to play the long game.

Closing Statement For: Eliot Cohen (02:20)

As an outgoing Bush official, Cohen recalls being interviewed by incoming Obama officials who displayed arrogance about Obama's leadership abilities. He argues that Obama has failed to accomplish goals of ending Middle East wars, resetting Russia, and abolishing nuclear weapons.

Closing Statement Against: Vikram Singh (02:19)

Singh argues that Obama has created a sustainable coalition fighting ISIS, is advancing nuclear non-proliferation, has made progress on climate change, and has an overall successful foreign policy record.

Time to Vote (04:28)

Donvan thanks panelists, instructs the audience members to vote, urges viewers to donate to Intelligence Squared Debates, and outlines the final Intelligence Squared debate of 2016.

Audience Vote Results (01:02)

Pre-Debate - For: 19% - Against: 38% - Undecided: 43% Post-Debate - For: 42% - Against: 49% - Undecided: 9%

Credits: Obama’s Foreign Policy Is a Failure: A Debate (00:04)

Credits: Obama’s Foreign Policy Is a Failure: A Debate

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Obama’s Foreign Policy Is a Failure: A Debate

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Has President Obama’s foreign policy been a success or a failure? Some praise his accomplishments, citing his taking out Osama bin Laden, ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defusing the threat of a nuclear Iran, normalizing relations with Cuba, and "pivoting" U.S. foreign policy toward Asia, where the nation's greatest opportunities and long-term challenges lie. But others criticize his legacy and leadership on the world stage, noting the rise of ISIS and ongoing threat of terrorism, simmering conflicts in the Middle East, his easing up on communist Cuba, and the growing belligerence of Russia and other adversaries. Has Obama’s foreign policy been a failure?

Length: 103 minutes

Item#: FMK127985

ISBN: 978-1-64023-046-0

Copyright date: ©2016

Closed Captioned

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