THE BLOG
05/19/2010 03:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Resolved: Obama's Foreign Policy Spells America's Decline

At least, that was the proposition debated at NYU last week. The debaters in favor of the proposition were Dan Senor and Mort Zuckerman, against were Wesley Clark and Bernard-Henri Lévy. Andrew Card, former Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush, was originally scheduled to be one of those in favor of the proposition, but at the last minute Zuckerman was brought in as a substitute.

The debate itself was courteous and, for the most part, moderate in tone, but, it seemed to me, too much concentrated on two of the "I"s in the Middle East, Iran and Israel. No mention was made of the rise of al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia. Surprisingly little mention was made of the situation in Iraq, where, before the summer is out, we will discover the final outcome -- did we tie or lose the Bush-launched war there. Some attention was paid to Pakistan and its nuclear capability, but the war in Afghanistan was treated merely as collateral to that subject.

A lot of time was spent discussing whether President Obama was more popular in most of the world than President Bush had been. Most of the participants agreed that he was more popular, but, according to Zuckerman and Senor, he was much less respected. French President Sarkozy had called him "naïve" they said, no one would've called President Bush naïve. They also claimed that although President Obama was widely admired in other Middle East countries, none of them seemed afraid of him or US power, and both Zuckerman and Senor seemed to think that, in international relations, fear wins over admiration.

But, getting back to the two "I"s, Senor and Zuckerman were strongly in favor of using the "big stick" on Iran and belittled Obama's efforts for sanctions. They believed that his efforts were futile and that Russia and China would oppose them, or take the teeth out of them. (Today, the President announced that China and Russia would support some sanctions, which I doubt will meet the standards set by Senor, Zuckerman, or for that matter, Israel. Both of them seemed greatly concerned about the security of Israel.)

Senor, the former chief spokesman for J. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, was particularly vocal on the subject. Time after time, he complained that President Obama had not supported the students and other protestors who took to the streets of Teheran to battle the Ahmadinejad regime. Senor asked his debate opponents why the President hadn't spoken out against Islamic fundamentalism even when Iranian students were dying in their fight against it.

It seemed to me that Senor was demanding that the President encourage the students to continue their fight even though we were in no position to help them escape from what we all knew was a lost cause -- bringing democracy back to Iran at this moment in history.

It reminded me of 1956, when Radio Free Europe encouraged protesters in the streets of Budapest to battle against their Communist government. RFE seemed to suggest that the United States would come to their aid. Instead, the Russians invaded, the West waited silently by, as thousands of Hungarians were killed and an even more severe Communist regime was installed. I got to my feet and mentioned Budapest to Senor and Zuckerman. I asked, "What would've happened if the President had encouraged the Teheran protesters? Would more of them been killed?" Both Senor and Zuckerman that was a question that no one could answer because nobody knows what would have happened. Wesley Clark rejoinder was something like, "What sounds good at a Rotary Club luncheon doesn't sound so good in the real world."

Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Walk softly and carry a big stick." Today's conservatives have translated that into "Talk toughly while toting a tiny twig".

In other words, don't put your mouth in a place where you can't put your fist.

By the way, the audience voted against the proposition.