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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Samantha Power in Louisville

I attended this talk by Samantha Power on Monday at the University of Louisville:

I'm not sure UN Ambassador Power said anything really new about American foreign policy, but news reports tended to emphasize two points -- her call for bipartisan foreign policy and her argument against new Congressionally-imposed sanctions on Iran.

If you were not paying close attention, her arguments about the value of economic sanctions seemed to be inconsistent. She criticized the economic embargo against Cuba, claiming that after more than 50 years of failure, the Obama administrations simply wants the U.S. to try a new approach. Yet, at the same time, she praised the success of economic sanctions against Burma (a pet issue of host Senator Mitch McConnell) and other recent sanctions against Iran.

Power argued that unilateral sanctions on Cuba had failed, while collective sanctions on Iran had succeeded. She didn't really talk about this distinction vis-a-vis Burma, but I know the EU also sanctioned Myanmar (Burma). On Cuba:
Even though the Castro regime has been repressing the Cuban people for decades, it is America that has been seen as Goliath picking a fight with David. I’ve seen this first-hand at the United Nations. Last October, for the 23rd year in a row, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Out of the UN’s 193 member-states, we were only one of two that voted to defend the embargo.
As for Iran, Power argued that the international sanctions regime is largely responsible for bringing Iran to the bargaining table, where it seems willing to limit its ability to produce nuclear weapons. However, new sanctions would backfire, undermining the collective sanctions that she claimed are "exponentially more effective than bilateral sanctions alone."
If we pull the trigger on new nuclear-related sanctions now, we will go from isolating Iran to potentially isolating ourselves. We go from a position of collective strength to a position of individual weakness.
All of these points were framed around a theme of bipartisanship. Power repeatedly emphasized that Republicans and Democrats in Washington fundamentally agreed about the goals of American foreign policy, even as they disagreed about the means to achieve them:
But what is often lost in the coverage of these debates is the fact that they’re disputes about means, not ends; about tactics, not objectives; about how America can tackle complex global challenges, and not whether we ought to try. As Thomas Jefferson once put it, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
In the introductory remarks, University of Louisville President James Ramsey introduced a visiting Army War College Fellow who is auditing my graduate IR seminar this spring.

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