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Obama’s White House debated


Political experts Howard B. Dean III and Edward J. Rollins may not agree on much, but they do agree that the days of an American-dominated world stage came to a close when President Obama entered the White House.

Dean, Rollins and Tim Naftali were the main speakers at the recent panel discussion hosted at Hofstra University titled, “How Does the Obama White House Lead in the World?” last Thursday. They debated the belief that the Obama administration has taken on foreign policies that shift the country to become a multi-powered global landscape.

Dean is a former presidential candidate, Democratic National Committee Chairman and governor of Vermont.  Rollins was President Reagan’s campaign director and political strategist. Both men are fellows at Hofstra’s Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency. They were joined by Naftali a historian, author and head of the Tamiment Library at NYU.

The panel is the first of three taking place this spring and was sponsored by the Kalikow Center.  During the panel, the speakers concluded that the future of international relations is likely to veer away from having just a single superpower or a pair of superpowers. ‘”This is what the president is trying to build,” said Dean, “a multi-polar world.”

Rollins did not give the president credit for the transition.

“I think that the president’s problem is that he is a loner president,” said Rollins. “He does not have close friends, he is not feared… he does not have friends internationally.”

Naftali rebutting this comment by defending that establishing a collaborative international force, rather than trying to be the single global leader, is best for the United States. “There are times when other regional powers, Germany for example, Poland, others, can actually do what is best for the free world,” he said.

Dean agreed. “[Obama] is not leading from behind, but giving others the opportunity to take responsibility,” he said. “We need their help in places like Iran, where we need to establish stability.”

Meanwhile, Obama struggles to work together with other international leaders to alleviate tensions building between Russia and the Ukraine, which have escalated to a Russian military presence in Ukraine’s Crimea this past Sunday. Obama is preparing to implement sanctions on Russia, but European leaders expressed a disinterest in committing to trade restrictions, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Dean called Obama’s “reason d’être,” or source of motivation, human rights. But, the president and his foreign collaborators have yet to be successful in the promotion of human rights in Iran, in Syria regarding the destruction of chemical weapons, or in Ukraine. “I think his intentions are probably correct,” Rollins said, “but his implementation isn’t.”

In a brief digression to discuss national politics, Rollins assured his fellow panelists, Dean in particular, that both parties faced a challenging midterm election.

“The Republican party has a lot of work to do,” he said, “but don’t think for a moment that Democrats don’t have divisions, too.”

The speakers returned to foreign policy to predict some kind of territorial changes between Russia and Ukraine. “There will be some revisions, some redrawing of lines between the two countries,” Dean said. None of them, however, foresaw the immediate military presence that Russia has recently implemented.

Rollins predicted that the Obama administration will continue to be ineffective. “I hate to see any lame duck presidency with three years to go,” he said.

Naftali was more optimistic about the president’s future. “If [Obama] finds a soft landing to the War on Terror – that could be his lasting legacy. That will be what historians remember him for,” he said.

The talks will continue on Wednesday, March 26 at 11:15 a.m. during a talk titled “Second-Term Leadership? Politics and Policies in the Obama White House,” and on Thursday, April 24 at 11:10 a.m. during a talk titled “What’s at Stake for Washington in 2014? An Early Look at the Midterm Elections.”


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