The Georgetown chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society hosted its first event, a debate between School of Foreign Service professor Daniel Byman and George Mason University professor Colin Dueck on the legacy of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy decisions, on Sept. 20 in the Intercultural Center Auditorium,
The chapter of the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, which has been at Georgetown since 2010, held the event to relaunch its organization following a failure to get Student Activities Commission recognition last year. The debate focused on the Obama administration’s foreign policy, as well as the foreign policy proposals of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Professor Matthew Kroenig moderated the debate.
The first phase of the debate concerned the current administration’s foreign policy record. Dueck began by criticizing Obama’s policies.
“I think he had a strategy at the macro level,” Dueck said. “At the micro level, when you look at specific cases like Syria, there never really was a coherent strategy in the sense of means and ends being coherently matched.”
Byman disagreed with Dueck’s perspective, arguing that Obama has achieved some success while stumbling on other issues.
After the opening remarks, the discussion shifted as both professors offered their analyses on the critical foreign policy decisions of the Obama years, including the decision to re-establish relations with Cuba after a 50-year embargo and the Iran nuclear deal.
Byman defended the deal, arguing that the accord with Iran was the best approach the administration could have taken.
“I also think the Iran deal was a success. It is not a perfect deal, and I could describe my own criticisms about it,” Byman said. “It is certainly not everything I wanted or others wanted. But I think it is better than no deal and that’s a reasonable bar.”
Dueck said the deal was both unnecessary and detrimental to American interests in the region.
“I agree that this was as much as Iran was willing to concede. But I am not sure why we had to have any deal,” Dueck said. “What you are doing now is you are lifting sanctions and you are handing back a lot of wealth to that regime, which it can use in the way it wants to. In a way, it legitimizes the regime.”
Byman and Dueck agreed that the intervention in Libya was mismanaged and that the administration was not sufficiently prepared to deal with its aftermath. They also defended the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Both professors also denounced Trump’s candidacy and his foreign policy proposals.
Byman said Trump is a danger to the United States because of his favorable perceptions of dictatorships and his complete disregard for the truth in relation to his policy plans.
“Part of it is, he is someone who doesn’t seem to care about the truth in any way,” Byman said. “We could argue about policy X, Y and Z, but he is someone who really has no problem saying something, you know, 99 percent of all Muslims support ISIS, he could say something like that and just not care that it is completely false. And will do that to thematically cause an issue. … The idea that someone would knowingly distort is troubling.”
Byman also said Trump’s success in securing the Republican nomination concerned him since it showed that he did not understand an important part of his own country.
Dueck said Trump is not representative of Republican ideals and condemned him for helping to legitimize conspiracy theories, including the theories that Obama was not born in the United States and that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas)’s father had been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“Trump is the ultimate disappointment. Because how do you defend him? He is indefensible. So I feel like it’s frustrating in the sense that he is not representing what I believe what it means to be a conservative or a Republican,” Dueck said.
Dueck said he would not be voting for Trump and hopes that he loses the election in order to provide anti-Trump Republicans an opportunity to regain control of the party.
Some audience members said they were disappointed the speakers did not evaluate the Republican candidate’s proposals more critically.
“I am a Democrat, and I have always wanted to hear from a real-life Trump supporter what exactly Trump’s foreign policy would entail,” Gabe Hammoud (SFS ’20) said. “I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to have one of those [discussions].”
Alexander Hamilton Society President Jeff Naft (COL ’17) said he was satisfied with the organization’s first event and hopes more students attend the organization’s functions. (Full disclosure: Naft is a staff writer for The Hoya.)
“I thought professor Dueck was a great ambassador for American conservatism,” Naft said. “Professor Byman did a great job arguing on behalf of the Obama administration and offered some insight that was in the center and was genuine, sincere and authentic. I walked away learning a lot more, and I hope that the Hamilton Society can hold more events like this in the future.”
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