October 20, 2004

Profs Debate Foreign Policy

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“There’s always a choice [in war], as the French have shown,” said Prof. Jeremy Rabkin ’74, government. “You can always surrender.”

This choice– whether to go to war or not, and to go with or without international support — was the crux of a debate between Rabkin and Prof. Bruce Jentleson ’77, director of the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University.

The two professors discussed unilateralism’s role in American foreign policy in McGraw Hall last night before an audience of about fifty students.

In opening arguments, Jentleson said that “we simply can’t have it both ways.” He said the United States could not both be a “beacon of justice and prosperity” and act unilaterally, ignoring the concerns of other countries.

He added, however, that force is an option that must be considered depending on the circumstances.

“Force does not have to be a last resort,” he said. “Force may be an early resort.” He cited the Rwandan genocide as an instance in which force would have been a good early option.

For the rest of his segment, Jentleson said that he would “do two things in the limited time I have,” primarily detailing what he felt was wrong with the current administration’s foreign policy and then reviewing what he sees as “right” with Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) plan for foreign policy.

Jentleson told the audience that, when President George W. Bush first took office, he was comforted by the fact that the president was a pragmatist and not an ideologue.

He said that he now recanted that belief after seeing how the current administration has handled Iraq and Middle East relations.

The Bush administration, Jentleson said, fails all four foreign policy tests which he considered crucial for an administration to pass: tests of power, peace, prosperity and principles.

“They are far from being peacebrokers,” he said, adding that Iraq was a “war of choice.”

He also said that moving from sanctions on Iraq — which he said was a bad policy — to an invasion of the country was a “fundamentally flawed decision.”

Jentleson also emphasized that, while terrorism should be the largest concern of any president in office after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it can not be the only concern in this election.

He discussed the domestic issues of healthcare and education, and he said that foreign policy should be based on more than military might. He said America must improve public schooling in the Middle East so that parents would not send their children to terrorist-linked primary schools, which currently offer better buildings, higher quality of education, simple items such as pencils and a platform for radical militant indoctrination.

Jentleson said that this “pencil” strategy was necessary for a lasting peace.

Jentleson also said that it was important for America to gain support within the international community, which would give its decisions a greater legitimacy.

He said that the Bush administration did not have this legitimacy or concern for multilateral support. “This is an administration … that was going to do this no matter what it was told,” Jentleson explained.

Rabkin fired back at Jentleson’s strategies, saying that his debate partner was “sliding off into a lot of other things besides terrorism.”

“Which president is more serious about this [threat]?” Rabkin asked, adding that he felt fighting terrorism was the most important issue for anyone seeking office this November.

“I am totally in favor of working with other countries if we can get that,” he said, cautioning that “You don’t want to be caught in a scheme … where you can be outvoted [on decisions of foreign policy].”

Jentleson retorted that, “It’s not that we ask permission. It’s just that when you only get the support of Micronesia, you’re not going to get done what you need to get accomplished.”

“Part of the lesson of 9/11 is that you’ve to look down the road,” he added, criticizing Rabkin’s focus on terrorism over other policies and programs.

Rabkin also took issues with some of Jentleson’s remarks, especially regarding the assertion that Bush’s administration is full of “ideologues.”

“Ideologues. Who are we actually talking about? The idea that Donald Rumsfeld is an idealogue… what does that mean?” he asked.

Rabkin did concede, however, that rebuilding Iraq was a difficult process.

“We have no experience in this,” he said, adding that if America pulled out now, terrorists would be emboldened in a similar manner as the terrorists in Algiers towards the end of its French rule.

“There’s no question that [terrorism] is the most important issue,” Jentleson said, “but we have to find a way to address [AIDS, genocide, and other national issues] before they become a crisis.”

Rabkin said that trying to focus on foreign education and social policy was ill-conceived and skirted one obvious solution: “One way in which conflicts end is victory.”

The debate was a part of the Cornell Mock Election Lecture and Debate Series and was co-sponsored by the Student Assembly. Mock Election events are sponsored by many organizations, including The Sun.

Archived article by Michael Morisy
Sun Senior Writer