National Security Debate

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By Djoudie Etoundi ’12

One of the treats of being foreign student in the U.S. is to be able to witness firsthand how political campaigns are fought and won in this country, whose politics are of such consequence to our homelands. This Wednesday, 44 T-Birds got to indulge just such an opportunity at ASU’s foreign policy surrogates debate, thanks to Ambassador Barrett who secured seats for Thunderbird. The two protagonists, former Bush administration official and senior advisor to Mitt Romney Dov Zakheim and former Obama Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans Janine Davidson, wasted no time in going after each other, echoing the media swipes of both camps. Dr Davidson provided a spirited defense of President Obama’s policies abroad emphasizing the successful withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, the killing of Bin Laden and renewed ties around the world, while Mr Zakheim denounced the administration for weakness and a lack of influence in the face of Iran’s still advancing nuclear program, the recent assassination of the US ambassador to Libya and the cuts to the Pentagon budget.

Although always polite and formally respectful toward each other, their sharp exchanges were revealing of the very real acrimony between both campaigns. An acrimony that was all the more surprizing given the large areas of agreement between both sides: Afghanistan (Both favor withdrawing troops.), War on Terror (Both want to continue the Bush counter-terrorism policies), Israel (support from both), Syria (Both are reluctant to direct US involvement.). As a foreigner, I came away from the debate feeling that for better or worse, the current US foreign policy posture rested on a broad though temporary consensus, but that simultaneously the viciousness of the domestic political issues is spilling over.

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