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Foreign Policy Key For Obama's Second Term

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


Eun Hee Kwon / Heights Staff

Judgments on the Obama administration’s foreign policy thus far, as well as the major decisions the newly re-elected president will soon face, were key focuses of a lecture Friday afternoon featuring political science professor Marc Landy and journalist Jason Margolis.

The event, titled “The Impact of the Elections on U.S. Foreign Policy,” was sponsored by the Office of International Students and Scholars as part of International Education Week.

Landy opened with his personal ruminations on the recent election, saying that there did not appear to be pronounced differences between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s foreign policy stances, as highlighted during the third presidential debate.

He also suggested that the “specter of fiscal disaster in familiar parts of the world,” including Greece and Spain, was an unsung story of the debate and that many do not realize the enormous impact that the threat of a “sister country” going under has on policymaking.

To speculate about what the future of American foreign policy might bring, Landy commented on the Obama Administration’s policy of the last four years. He pointed to “extraordinary continuities with the Bush Administration,” including the continuation of the war in Afghanistan and an “aggressive” extension of the war in Pakistan that remained in line with Bush strategy.

He also noted that the current administration has not strayed far from the Bush Administration with respect to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility remaining open and the maintenance of the Patriot Act.

Throughout his first term and during his campaign for re-election, Obama advocated for “soft power” in foreign policy, meaning an emphasis on confidence building around the world, international outreach, cultivation of world opinion, and involvement with non-war issues, including poverty, human rights, and climate change.

Despite this , Landy said, Obama has not completely abandoned the “hard power” stance of the Bush Administration, continuing the wars in the Middle East and the use of drones against enemy combatants.

Looking ahead to Obama’s second term, Landy said that perhaps “the most fateful decision Obama would have to make” would be on whether to intervene if a conflict erupted between Iran and Israel.

At home, Obama faces the task of choosing a new secretary of state, as current secretary Hillary Clinton has said that she will vacate the post at the end of Obama’s first term. Among the leading candidates for the position is current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, though Landy noted that Rice is very strongly identified with the “soft power” approach and would likely face a “harrowing” Senate confirmation process if appointed.

Margolis, a journalist with The World, a radio program co-produced by WGBH/Boston, Public Radio International, and the BBC World Service, added his familiarity with immigration to the foreign policy conversation.

According to Margolis, Latino voters in swing states overwhelmingly favored Obama mostly because they disagreed with the Republican stance on immigration and were offended by Romney’s proposal of self-deportation. Margolis stated that Romney may very well have won the election if he had succeeded in earning more Latino votes.

After fielding a question from a Hispanic member of the audience, who emphasized that Hispanics are “not single issue voters,” Margolis conceded that immigration was not always the most important issue for the Hispanics he interviewed. Many cared about jobs and the economy as the primary issue facing our nation, as did the rest of the country on the whole, he said.

Both Landy and Margolis emphasized the complexity of the foreign policy situation facing the president and the fact that many unknowns remain in terms of precarious situations in Iran and the European economic sphere.

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