Resolved: The Obama Administration has improved the US’s global image

September 28, 2015

Affirmative: David Gernon

Main points:

  • Obama is an improvement over Bush
  • Approval ratings of US and Obama are higher than before
  • Pulling out of Aghanistan and Iraq and the Cuban thaw have improved the US’s image
  • Favorability rating dented impact of spying scandal

Negative: Max Rowe

Main points:

  • Presidential celebrity does not mean image of US as a whole has improved
  • NSA scandal has showed US does not respect its values
  • ‘Red line’ in Syria has created image of failure
  • Spying scandal with Germany and other major countries
  • Obama has shown failure to manage his government

General points of discussion:

  • Have US policies in the Middle East created an image of peace or indecision?
  • Which countries matter the most when it comes to measuring reputation?

Initial vote: 25 affirmative, 9 negative, 7 abstain

Final vote: 28 affirmative, 13 negative, 3 abstain

The Northwestern Political Union ushered in 2015–16 as it traditionally does – with a debate on the presidency. This year, the topic was the global reputation of the United States. On the affirmative, David Gernon began by quoting Barack Obama’s predecessor and implored the crowd to compare Mr. Obama to George W Bush. Mr. Gernon backed up his opening argument with polls showing an improvement in global popularity for the president and suggested that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq and resumption of relations with Cuba boosted the US image.

Max Rowe asked observers to separate Barack Obama’s personal popularity from the US’s reputation. Mr. Rowe pointed out the negatives of Mr. Obama’s presidency: the NSA scandal showed a lack of respect for American values, the red line in Syria suggested indecision, and the revelation that the US spies on its allies created mistrust. Mr. Gernon countered that President Obama’s popularity had dented the fallout from the spying scandal, but Mr. Rowe asserted that the scandal showed a failure to manage government.

With the debate opened to all, the discussion quickly turned to the Middle East. Supporters of the negative position believed that the situation in that region had actually gotten worse due to the withdrawal of troops, with ISIS’s presence often brought up as evidence. This was met with arguments that the withdrawals had reduced America’s reputation as a warmonger and that the Iran deal instilled a sense of cooperation and trust with European allies.

Many stated that the failure to enforce a red line in Syria and act against Russian aggression in Crimea created an image of weakness and indecision; to them, Mr. Obama’s deference to public opinion was actually undermining the president. But one commentator noted that engaging in both intervention and non-intervention did not necessarily mean indecision but could also indicate a careful balancing act. Some were fond of Mr. Obama’s restraint on the world stage.

At this point, Mr. Rowe responded to some of the comments; he found fault with Mr. Obama’s strategy of drones and proxies as well as arming rebels, who Mr. Rowe alleged had become radicalized. Mr. Gernon responded that while the situation in Syria was not ideal, it was not the US’s fault and thus had not hurt its image. Mr. Gernon also praised Mr. Obama’s willingness to work with rising nations such as the United Arab Emirates.

This last point prompted a new angle of discussion, as debaters discussed which countries Mr. Obama should be most worried about appealing to. Some participants expressed satisfaction with Mr. Obama’s positive and cooperative messages with African countries; but one debater pointed out that Mr. Bush had done more for Africa than Mr. Obama. Another person suggested that any future allies would be hesitant to join the US after seeing its treatment of current allies. Another late topic of discussion was economics; Mr. Obama received praise for stabilizing the American economy and thus attracted international investors, but this was dismissed with the point that presidents usually have little to do with the economy.

With the final votes tallied, the affirmative side maintained the healthy advantage they had enjoyed before the vote. But the negative side appeared to have improved their reputation more, with a bigger gain of votes than the affirmative side.