KET Legislative Coverage

Foreign Policy Roundtable

by John Gregory | 06/10/14 3:26 PM

Kentucky Tonight took a break from state politics and local issues to explore recent events in international news and the Obama Administration's approach to foreign policy. From tensions between Ukraine and Russia, to the exchange of a captured U.S. Army soldier for five Taliban fighters, global affairs remain a challenge for the president and the American military and diplomatic corps.

Obama's Foreign Policy Vision
The Kentucky Tonight panel of professors gave generally favorable grades to President Obama's recent foreign policy speech to graduating cadets at West Point. Hossein Motamedi, who teaches political science and history at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, says the president essentially affirmed the nation's role as the world's hegemon, although America would be involved in world affairs in a more restrained and more multi-lateral fashion.

Stacy Closson, from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky, concurs with that assessment. She says America may not always deploy overwhelming military force, but will lead in other activities such as diplomatic efforts, organizing logistics, and providing surveillance and intelligence information. Closson applauds the president’s call to respect international law, focus on aid and development funding, and lead by example. She also points to how Obama engaged NATO allies and employed economic sanctions to deal with Russia's incursion into Ukraine.

Georgetown College political science professor Guilherme Silva called this an excellent example of "smart power," or the combination of military force when necessary with diplomatic negotiations and efforts to foster democracy. Silva differs from those who criticize Obama for working with international institutions to achieve foreign policy objectives. He believe the role of the U.S. in those organizations gives them the power and leverage to address critical global issues.

Although he hasn’t viewed Obama as a doctrinaire-type of leader, UK political science professor Clayton Thyne says the president may be moving towards that type of policy approach. Thyne argues that global issues are too complex to be addressed through a strict doctrine, and that force isn't always necessary to achieve certain goals. As examples, he points to the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, and obtaining concessions from Iran, both of which occurred without America bombing those countries.

Prisoner Exchange
Stacy Closson says President Obama is very proud of being able to bring U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home after nearly five years in captivity, despite the firestorm that erupted over his exchange for five Taliban fighters detained at Guantanamo Bay. Hossein Motamedi attributes part of that criticism to confusion over different factions of the Taliban.

Challenges in the Americas and Africa
Immigration continues to be a hot-button political issue for Americans. Guilherme Silva calls the recent story about illegal immigrant children being rounded up in Texas and deposited in bus stations in Arizona a symptom of failed immigration policy and a missed opportunity for the U.S. to better engage with the rest of the western hemisphere.

Stacy Closson says this illustrates how massive spending on border security hasn’t kept illegal immigrants out of the country. She contends limited financial resources may be better spent on development assistance to Latin American countries to boost their economies, schools, and medical services.

Meanwhile, authorities continue to search for several hundred Nigerian girls kidnapped by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Hossein Motamedi says the incident stems from a Christian - Muslim divide in Nigeria, significant corruption around the country's oil industry, and a general instability in the region.

Clayton Thyne argues that child abduction is common in warfare. He says the abductions wouldn't have gained international attention had Boko Haram not kidnapped so many girls at one time. Thyne contends that acts like these are one consequence of the U.S. choosing to not be the world's policeman.

Watch the full Kentucky Tonight program
for more on these issues as well as prospects for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo, and American relations with Russia.