Debate Heats Up as Students and Faculty Address Foreign Policy

Student leaders from both liberal and conservative perspectives battled it out in a two-on-two debate at Crystal Cove Auditorium on Oct. 30.
Sponsored by the Center for Unconventional Security Affairs, Model United Nations and moderated by MUN co-president, fourth-year psychology and social behavior major Jenny Tran, ‘The People Speak’ debate took on the controversial topic, ‘The Question of Iraq: America Debates Its Role in the World.’ The debate featured fierce arguments and a question and answer session that lasted for over two hours.
Debaters were presented with the resolution of the night, ‘that the U.S demonstrates a stronger commitment to international institutions and international law pertaining to the use of preemptive force.’
Richard A. Matthew, associate professor of international and environmental politics at UCI and director for the Center for Unconventional Security Affairs, introduced the origin of debate and its importance in U.S foreign policy.
Guest speaker Mark Levine, an assistant professor of history and expert in Middle Eastern affairs, followed Matthew by emphasizing the importance of seeing and understanding both the moral and political structure of U.S foreign policy from a historical perspective.
The affirmative team speaker Alexander Phillips, a second-year drama and comparative literature major and editor in chief of the Irvine Progressive, argued that the United States did not have the right to use preemptive force in Iraq. He said the United States continues to undermine international laws and institutions.
‘International law can work when the world’s leading super power, the U.S., demonstrates a stronger commitment to those international laws and institutions,’ Phillips said.
Bach Ho, Ayn Rand Society president and fourth-year computer science major, retorted by defining the difference between free nations and criminal nations.
‘If a criminal nation poses a threat to a free nation, that free nation has the right to use preemptive military force to address the threat,’ Ho said.
He also believes that there is no obligation for the United States to follow international institutions and laws because such laws do not exist, while current institutions are ‘worse than useless.’
Vanessa Zuabi, vice president of the Society of Arab Students and a second-year international studies and philosophy major, then took the podium to argue the affirmative’s case. Pointing to the United States’ funding of Saddam Hussein’s government in past decades, Zuabi accused the Bush Administration of going into Iraq for selfish reasons.
‘Although the United States has supported the United Nations and other international organizations, they are mowing down the endeavor to build their own political and economic agenda,’ Zuabi said.
As the negative team’s closing speaker, Ryan Mykita, publisher of the Irvine Review an a third-year economics and political science major, elaborated that the United States has the responsibility to maintain the relevance of the United Nations by enforcing its resolutions, even if it means acting unilaterally without widespread international support.
‘It would be accurate to say the U.S. acts like a sheriff without a police force [and] the United States is the only candidate of being that police force,’ Mykita said.
After the debate, the audience was allowed to engage in a question and answer session with the debaters.
Questions ranged from criticism of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq to future ideals for U.S. foreign policy. Some audience members were visibly stirred.
Overall, the host and speakers found the debate a success, though the two debaters in the negative team seem to disagree with each other’s philosophies. Many were confused on Mykita’s stance since there were instances during which he seemed to side with the affirmative.
‘I think both sides did a good job. The arguments were thoughtful [and] well-prepared, They also handled the questions well,’ Matthew said. ‘[The audience] demonstrated that UCI is a place where there is a genuine interest in policy issues.’
Co-president of MUN and second-year political science major Richard Nguyen found the debates enlightening as an audience member.
‘I think the audience really livened up the debate by asking very ideological questions,’ Nguyen said.
Another member of the audience, Stefan Wrobel, a fourth-year ICS major, thought ‘the debate went well in general,’ though he felt that the debates could have been moderated better with a stricter regulation of the format.
Still, Wrobel said he would attend more debates if UCI were to offer them.