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Schonfeld and Petracca Continue Debate Series Over Obama’s Middle East Policies

Professors William Schonfeld and Mark Petracca brought students together once again last Thursday for the latest iteration of their debate series.

The most recent installment of the political science professors’ hot topics series saw Petracca and Schonfield debate the effectiveness of Obama’s policy in the Middle East in Donald Bren Hall.

“We tried to think of a topic that was relevant and something that students would be interested in. With all of the coverage of the Middle East we thought this would be a good topic for discussion,” said Paolo Manaloto, a Social Sciences Dean’s Ambassador and fourth-year economics major.

Mary Fouad | New University
Mary Fouad | New University

Schonfeld’s stance argued that Obama’s policy has failed while Petracca defended Obama’s actions in the region. Both professors used facts, rhetoric and even some humor and sarcasm to persuade the audience to agree with them.
Schonfeld was the first to begin and used his first two minutes to thank the student ambassadors and staff who put the event together in spite of his 10 minute time limit for his initial arguments.

“It’s a wonderful thing that your fellow students are doing. They are taking time and energy to enrich the Irvine environment,” Schonfeld said. “What the university is supposed to be about is the confrontation of alternative ideas and we don’t do that nearly as much.”

After his initial thank you’s, Schonfeld laid out his central arguments and the central premise he would hold for the debate.

“Now, we are in 2014 and it’s clear that, in spite of the promise and the good words, Obama’s foreign policy has totally failed,” Schonfeld said.

Schonfeld argued that rather than reforming America’s relations with the rest of the world, Obama has instead continued many of the ostracizing policies of his predecessor and has even made more mistakes than President George Bush did. He cited polls and reports on issues like continued drone attacks, military actions and the deployment of “combat advisors to Iraq” to claim that Obama’s current policies have more in common with Bush’s than some would like to think.

“This does not look like a new era, but this looks like more of the same (from the Bush era) done badly.”

Petracca countered Schonfeld’s arguments by focusing on Obama’s foreign policy goals and what he called a shift from “muscular” foreign policy to one that instead focuses more on diplomacy and restraint to keep the U.S. out of unnecessary wars.

“Under Obama, there has been no equivalent to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra [scandal], the withdrawal from Somalia or the Iraqi war,” Petracca said.

Mary Fouad | New University
Mary Fouad | New University

“A reasonable yardstick for measuring Obama’s presidency is to compare Obama with other actual presidents rather than to speculate about what would have been better,” argues Benjamin Goldsmith of the University of Sydney Australia.
According to Petracca, these speculations amount to fantasy politics about missed opportunities.

Schonfeld did not challenge this premise, but rather focused on criticizing the results of Obama’s policies, with particular focus on the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and Obama’s handling of the Syrian Civil War.
“The central problem of Obama is that he says one thing and does another,” Schonfeld said, in reference to Obama’s actions in Syria.

Despite their passionate arguments, both professors were assigned their positions and don’t necessarily agree with the positions they took during the debate. This fact came as a surprise to some and revealed aspects of good debating to others.

“I thought it was really interesting the different spin that the professors put on their different arguments. It was kind of hard to tell what they really believed because they argued so fervently in favor of their side,” said Laura Hunderberg, third-year sociology major. She said the debate “opened my eyes to what different sides could argue,” in relation to foreign policy.