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Recapping The Munk Debates: Has Obama Made the World a More Dangerous Place?

The 14th semi-annual Munk Debate was held in Toronto on November 5th, 2014, and featured four panelists debating U.S. President Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy. Specifically, they focused on whether Obama’s foreign policy is inadvertently working to embolden the U.S.A.’s enemies and, ultimately, whether it is making the world a more dangerous place.

Pre-Debate Audience Results, Munk Debates

Arguing on the pro side—that Obama’s policy is compromising the safety of people around the world—were Robert Kagan, a senior fellow of foreign policy at the Brooking Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, and Bret Stephens, the 2013 Pulitzer prize winner for Distinguished Commentary. The con side featured Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation, and Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large for Time magazine and host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Before the debate began, the audience gathered in Roy Thompson Hall and those watching the debate online were polled: are Obama’s foreign policies emboldening the United States’ enemies and making the world a more dangerous place? 43% felt that the world was indeed a more dangerous place as a result of Obama’s foreign policies, while the remaining 57% disagreed. 93% of the audience members polled, however, said that they would be willing to change their stance depending on the arguments presented during the debate.

Moderated by Rudyard Griffiths, the debate lasted for nearly an hour and a half. Below are some highlights and arguments presented from all four debaters over the course of their discussion:

Anne-Marie Slaughter

Bret Stephens

Question: When she ran against Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign made much of the ‘red phone,’ questioning whether Mr. Obama was up to the task. Looking back, what was Mr. Obama’s red-phone moment, his biggest unexpected test of crisis management, and how well did he handle it?

Rudyard Griffiths

In general, his reticence about taking action, his reluctance about getting the United States involved in a problem even though we’re in it whether we like it or not, has repeatedly led to bad consequences.

– Robert Kagan

Certainly the “red phone” moment for Obama was the [Osama] bin Laden assassination. Everything we know about it was that it was a very high-stakes game with very little credible information. It was a very gutsy move because it involved violating Pakistani sovereignty. It involved putting Americans in harm’s way and risking a significant international incident if things went wrong. And Obama handled it very calmly, very coolly.

– Fareed Zakaria

Post-Debate Audience Results, Munk Debates

Following the debate, the audience was asked again whether they agreed with the notion that Obama’s foreign policy was proving to be detrimental to the global community.

The con side saw an 11% vote gain as a result of the debate and came out victorious, with an overwhelming 68% of respondents saying that they disregard the idea that Obama’s foreign policies have made the world a more dangerous place.

What are your thoughts? View the full debate and drop a comment letting us know whether you’re on the pro or con side. You can pre-order Has Obama Made The World a More Dangerous Place? by Bret Stephens & Fareed Zakaria & Robert Kagan & Anne-Marie Slaughter here.

Has Obama Made The World a More Dangerous Place? by Bret Stephens & Fareed Zakaria & Robert Kagan & Anne-Marie Slaughter.The fourteenth semi-annual Munk Debate, which was held in Toronto on November 5, 2014, pits Bret Stephens and Robert Kagan against Fareed Zakaria and Anne-Marie Slaughter to debate the legacy of President Obama.

From Ukraine to the Middle East to China, the United States is redefining its role in international affairs. Alliance building, public diplomacy, and eschewing traditional warfare in favour of the focused use of hard power such as drones and special forces are all hallmarks of the so-called Obama Doctrine. Is this a farsighted foreign policy for the United States and the world in the twenty-first century — one that acknowledges and embraces the increasing diffusion of power among states and non-state actors? Or, is an America “leading from behind” a boon for the nations and blocs who want to roll back economic globalization, international law, and the spread of democracy and human rights?

In this edition of the Munk Debates, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Bret Stephens and famed historian and foreign policy commentator Robert Kagan square off against CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and noted academic and political commentator Anne-Marie Slaughter to debate the legacy of President Obama. With ISIS looking to reshape the Middle East, Russia increasingly at odds with the rest of the West, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a standstill, the Munk Debate on Foreign Policy asks: Has Obama’s foreign policy taken the U.S. in the right direction?

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