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Stephen Walt: Foreign policy-wise, Trump is much of the same

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Phi Beta Kappa lecturer and foreign policy expert Stephen Walt offered harsh criticism of the American foreign policy establishment last Thursday, Oct. 26. In his talk, titled “Where is U.S. Foreign Policy Headed?” Walt argued that foreign policy under president Trump is still commandeered by the pre-existing bipartisan foreign policy establishment; the administration now pursues long-standing, already flawed policies in an erratic and incompetent manner pursued by Trump.

Walt is a professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He authored three books, including The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which created a media storm. The New York Times called it “ruthlessly realistic,” while others accused it of anti-semitism.  

In his talk, Walt argued that the foreign policy establishment — or the ‘blob,’ as he refers to it — is to blame for decades of failure in global affairs. He referenced the US policy of ‘liberal hegemony,’ defining it as a foreign policy that actively tries to promote the basic principles and ideals of liberal democracy. The policy assumes the US is an indispensable nation, and that it should try to use its power to spread democracy, whether peacefully or by force.

Walt outlined changes in international power dynamics over the past thirty years. China’s power has steadily increased, the relationship between the US and Russia is at its worst since the Cold War, and the Middle East is in turmoil largely due to US efforts at regime change.

According to Walt, the election of Donald Trump, whose policies represent a repudiation of the grand strategy pursued since the Cold War, proves that the American people want change. However, the change in his foreign policy is in how Trump himself acts, not in policy.

Walt blames the establishment for the state of US foreign policy. Although Trump ran on the premise that foreign policy in the US is “a complete and total disaster,” he doesn’t follow through on the policies he supported during the election. McMaster replaced Flynn, Trump said in an interview that NATO is no longer obsolete, he ordered a cruise missile strike in Syria After Assad uses chemical weapons, and he announced 5,000 more troops will be deployed to Afghanistan. According to Walt, these are many of the same actions Hillary Clinton would have taken if she was president.

“In a competition between Donald and the establishment, the establishment is winning,” he said.

Apart from criticizing the policies in place, Walt also listed the policies the US should pursue. The US should reduce or eliminate its military role in Eastern Europe, since Russia isn’t an existential threat to either the EU or the US. Trump should take a harder line with China to prevent it from becoming a regional hegemon and let Russia take the lead in Syria. The US shouldn’t have special relationships with any Middle Eastern powers, and should refrain from pursuing nation-building experiments.

Student reactions to these ideas were mixed.

“[Walt] underestimates Russia’s willingness to take risks given the threat it perceives from NATO and its declining global influence,” said Irina Bukharin ’18. “Although Professor Walt’s views most likely differed from the average Swattie’s, it was really encouraging to see so many people come out to hear his views.”

Frank Kenny ’20 was also unsure about one of Walt’s stances.

“I was surprised to hear him argue for a more interventionist approach when it comes to foreign policy dealing with China,” Kenny said.

Associate Professor of Political Science Dominic Tierney offered a different analysis of post-Cold War US policy. He questioned Walt’s harsh criticism of the establishment, considering the failure of Trump’s anti-establishment agenda. The Trump administration and all its missteps don’t seem to endear Walt to the establishment, like they do with many Americans.

“Instead, [Walt] seems to be sticking to his guns,” said Tierney. “While I think a lot of people look at the Trump administration and think that the establishment is looking better every day, by comparison to some of the blunders that we’ve seen.”

The failure of US foreign policy over the past thirty years, said Tierney, doesn’t have it’s roots in the establishment, although they have blundered.

“If you look at the bigger story of American foreign policy, it’s actually been fairly successful over the centuries and even since WWII, so I’m not sure that the American establishment is the fundamental problem here … that suspicion has been reinforced by the trump administration because it is explicitly anti-establishment and has made very serious mistakes,” he said.

According to Tierney, the deeper reason for these foreign policy gaffes is that America has no one to challenge its power like it did during the Cold War.

“Countries the with kind of power that the US has had since the end of the Cold War in history have rarely acted in restrained and measured ways,” he said.

Despite having controversial views, Walt filled the room with students engaged in

meaningful deliberation, and encouraged reexamining widely-accepted points of view.

Statement on kneeling during anthem

in Open Letter/Opinions by

Dear Friends,

This past week, President Trump released several tweets chastising athletes who have not stood during the national anthem as well as those who have declined White House invitations. His blanket critique speaks to a reckless pattern of racist sentiment that now endangers the very diversity that America is built upon. Our country’s history suffers from the remnants of massacred Native Americans, enslaved Africans, discriminated against Latinx Americans, persecuted Muslims, economically marginalized Whites, and others disenfranchised by American society. Our own grandparents — some of whom are proud American military veterans — recollect stories of lynchings, church bombings, and police brutality. As young women, we fear a future in which our children will not come home for dinner because they have been assailed or shot in the streets simply for being black or brown.

We are patriotic Americans who value our freedoms to speak against injustices. President Trump struggles to recognize that to be patriotic might at times also require dissent. Our Founding Fathers acknowledged that as much as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did. Patriotism and dissent are not mutually exclusive; America’s greatness is manifest in love and equality for all, not hate and privilege. Thus, in solidarity with athletes and activists around the country who have taken a knee in hopes of addressing a long-standing and systematic pattern of racial violence aimed at brown and black people, we feel compelled to join this action. As black athletes, we especially understand the hateful perception of our bodies as valuable on the court, but disposable on the streets.

We invite all athletes and spectators to express solidarity with a movement that believes America can do better.

Trust in our love and faith in our country. Trust when we question an America that does not afford all its citizens security and safety. Only when we address the disease of white supremacy and racial injustice, can we truly become, as our anthem states, the land of the free. Today we kneel because this sense of security remains unattainable for the average young brown and black person walking or driving in their neighborhoods; today we kneel to honor the brown and black lives lost to violence, and to remind ourselves that none of us can truly be free until we all are.


In solidarity,


Emma Morgan-Bennett ’20 and Lelosa Aimufua ’20

College conservatives and democrats emphasize activism and collaboration

in News by

Amidst the first year of a controversial presidency with near-constant political turmoil, campus political groups such as the Swarthmore Conservatives and the Swarthmore Democrats are looking for ways to expand their outreach and build upon the progress they made last year.

The values of each club, while rooted at different points on the political spectrum, are currently leading to increased activism, and both clubs look forward to joining together for projects.

Swat Conservatives aims to promote free speech on college campuses. According to president Gilbert Guerra ’19, the club is a place where Trump supporters can share their ideas without feeling personally attacked but where they will still be challenged.

“It would be a challenge of their ideas, not their own personal merits,” he added.

Guerra explained that in past years, the goal of the club was to build a core base of about thirty participating members. The group was previously called the Swarthmore Republicans, with a base mostly consisting of moderate Republicans, but then it shifted to a general conservative society mostly comprised of socially conservative Catholic students and focused on socially supporting students with conservative ideologies. After that, more libertarian students joined, and now there are wide range of conservative-minded students, including an executive board whose members voted for Clinton, Trump, Gary Johnson, or write-in candidates. Some chose to protest by not voting at all.

“There’s certainly a lot of debate within the group,” Guerra said, but the group is still unified in terms of how [they] act and treat each other.

Now, Guerra and other members of the club say they are looking toward more activism on campus, which includes bringing in non-controversial speakers who will bring intellectual, not inflammatory, discussion.

The club also has partnerships with organizations such as the Leadership Institute, a political nonprofit with conservative leanings. As stated by the organization’s website, its goal is to train conservative activists and students to “fight the left and win.” Other partnerships include the American Enterprise Institute, which Guerra hopes will bring “more dynamic speakers to campus and present alternative opinions,” as well as Turning Point USA.

TPUSA is, according to their website, a student movement for free markets and limited government. As the Phoenix covered in April, TPUSA has been the subject of national controversies. However, according to Guerra, the relationship with TPUSA is not monetary. The organization sends materials for students to express their political opinions but does not fund Swat Conservatives.

As for Swat Dems, activism is rooted not just on campus, but also in the Swarthmore community.

President Taylor Morgan ’19 noted that since the election, many members of the group are looking at more action-oriented strategies to engage their community. She noted that while the name Swarthmore Democrats evokes the idea of a politically moderate group, there is a variety of political ideology within its ranks, ranging from far-left to moderately left-leaning, to even some right-of-center members.

“What unites all of us is that we want to seek strategies that lift people up and raise up voices, particularly the people who have been silenced,” Morgan said.

Swat Dems is not affiliated with the Democratic Party at the state or national level, which allows the club to diverge from of the mainstream Democratic Party.

“We have the ability to stray from the platform and hold the national and state party accountable for things that we see as being necessary to be advocated for or spoken out about,” Morgan said.

In addition, this allows the club to take stances that are controversial or debated and that are radically different from most other Democratic groups. One example of this is on issues of Israel and Palestine.

“[The club has] explicitly [rejected] the Israeli government occupation of the Palestinian territories, which is pretty much something that you will never hear any Democrats say,” Swat Dems Vice President Ben Stern ’20 said.

The group is also looking for ways to actively participate in political events, such as registering voters for Pennsylvania elections, hosting flash phone banks, or bringing in speakers who might challenge the group.

Morgan stressed the importance of understanding “uncomfortable truths about what Democrats have done and meant to a lot of people” as well how college Democrat groups can improve.

The two organizations have made the effort to collaborate this semester, including hosting Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, to speak about free speech.  Swat Dems also discussed working in a bipartisan manner to fight gerrymandering and participate in local elections at their meeting on Sept. 26.

“We’re doing a lot more things that involve outreach to other groups on campus. This year, we’re hosting a lot of events with the Swarthmore Conservative Society, which I think is great. We’ve been able to have a lot of good bipartisan dialogue with them,” said Stern.

According to Stern, the two groups are working with other on-campus groups such as i20, the Swarthmore international club, and Deshi, the South Asian student organization on campus, for a disaster relief event.

Both presidents also said that they want their clubs to create beneficial change.

“[We want to] engage with and lift up members of the community, particularly the most unheard,” said Morgan.

Guerra also wants his group to be a constructive force.

“[Swat Conservatives is] trying to focus more on the positive things that we can change and ways that we can make the Swarthmore community a better place instead of just trying to tear it down,” Guerra said.

For these two clubs, activism can mean working together in a bipartisan way and having a discussion of political differences despite an increasingly divisive political climate nationwide.

Why Hillary Won the Debate, and Must Win the Election

in Columns/Opinions by

While media pundits and public polls seemed to initially diverge in their findings in the immediate aftermath of the first Democratic debate, the results seem to have become homogenous in the week after: Hillary Clinton won the debate in the eyes of 62 percent of Democrats.

National polls are less damning for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, as he only trails behind Hillary with a margin of 29 to 45 percent. The age group that seems to be most decisively in favor of Bernie is the youth; college students and millennials are most vocal and active in their support. Sanders’ campaign is the most active in regards to social media, and within the age demographic of 18 to 24 year olds, Sanders polls consistently at almost the same level as Clinton. While he is still a symbol of the “s word” (socialism), he is doing remarkably well for being so far left. Millennials have historically been very apathetic and show some of the worst signs of political disengagement; during the 2014 midterm elections, only 19.9 percent of eligible voters in the 18 to 24 year old demographic actually showed up to polls, according to the U.S. Census’ Current Population Supplement. It is heartening to see a candidate have such tangible appeal to young voters, especially the generation that is most likely to inherit the problems and issues being discussed.

However, political experts and analysts still feel that Bernie will not win the primary, let alone the general election. While I think he has a fair shot, certainly a better chance than Chafee or Webb or O’Malley who were the other participants in the first Democratic debate, his support among Democrats in no way indicates that he would be able to capture the national election.

The debate showed us a few very important things. To begin, Sanders seems to have income inequality as his fallback issue. As every political candidate ever does on televised debates, when he received a question he either couldn’t or didn’t want to address, he slowly snaked back to the issue of wealth disparity. While Sanders is not alone in doing so, his choice of primary issue is particularly interesting when we observe that affluent conservatives truly have no reason to side with Sanders if this is his metaphorical thesis. While Clinton’s semi-right foreign policy and more moderate economic policy can appeal to some republicans, Sanders has little to offer to the other side. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that while idealistic politics with the typical “anyone can change the system” can-do attitude sound great, they also rarely translate to actual legislative change, particularly when the political backdrop is such a gridlocked Congress. On issues where Sanders can get away with being extremely left, like gun control, he chooses a relatively moderate stance, and on issues like the environment where he is both left and attractive to his predominant voter base, he has not capitalized on his debate time to push his agenda far enough.

Conversations I’ve had at Swarthmore regarding the Democratic nomination reveal a slightly frightening conclusion that seems to align with the larger trend: it appears that even at such a seemingly politically active campus, many students are riding the pro-Bernie bandwagon without actually understanding what that entails. A vast majority of these Bernie-fad supporters that I have interacted with don’t seem to be concerned with specific, actual issues that they align with Sanders on, but rather love the counterculture aspect of supporting a socialist in an American election. While I’m the last one to discourage any form of political activism or engagement, I also think that it’s important to research candidates and their platforms and accomplishments thoroughly before submitting a ballot. Be well-informed before you go on a hate rant about how Hillary singlehandedly caused Benghazi or has sole responsibility for a national security threat due to her email negligence (major brownie points to Bernie for saying what we were all thinking and telling the media to put a sock in it about the emails). On the flip side, before engaging in a political debate, make sure your main reason for supporting Clinton is not simply that she is a woman. The point is, trends come and go, but the lasting impact of an election, especially one of this magnitude, can be for years and decades to come. As we approach campaigning season, choose who you support carefully, and be a proud and informed voter.

Not feeling the Bern: why Sanders would be a disaster

in Columns/Opinions by

I’m a pretty liberal dude. But I’m not going to vote for Bernie Sanders.

Some of it is electoral mathematics. A drawn-out primary fight is a dangerous proposition for the Democrats, and one Senator Sanders is likely to lose. But say I’m wrong, and he wins the primary. Say I’m really wrong and somehow a Trump/Carson/Sanders three-way election breaks out and Sanders wins the general.  Theoretically, I get what I want: a president with a strong progressive vision. And that is what I want; I just want presidents to be quiet about it.

The history of the presidency suggests that the most effective executives combine a radical vision with political pragmatism, acting publicly moderate while leading the country towards a transformation. Abraham Lincoln is a classic. He knew the country had to move beyond slavery, but realized it was politically impossible at the start of his presidency. To do so was to re-envision the economy, reconstitute the political relationship between the states, and reconcile the country to a prolonged Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation came out near the third year of the conflict, once Lincoln was sure he could direct the narrative. In the meantime, he was publicly moderate, advocating containment rather than abolition.

If we look at other transformative Presidents, we see a similar pattern. FDR was elected as a moderate; his reforms were iterative and forced by outside political pressure. His long run liberal vision was quietly implemented a piece at a time. Likewise, Reagan read the political headwinds, passing limited welfare reform and failing to fulfill his electoral promise to demolish the Department of Education. However, both reset America’s course, with FDR’s Keynesianism and emphasis on a strong safety net passing into Nixon’s Republican Administration and Reagan influencing Clinton to be tough on crime and severely limit welfare.

Not all candidates have to live up to the legacies of the most notable past presidents, but if Senator Sanders wants to make good on his promises, he’s going to have fundamentally change America’s course. To do so requires the cooperation of Congress and the consent of the American people to a radical political vision. Sanders is not an FDR; he’s a Walter Mondale or a Jimmy Carter, a Washington outsider with a progressive vision who will smash on the shores of political necessity.

President Obama makes a similar point during his interview with Marc Maron: “You can’t turn 50 degrees. And it’s not just because of corporate lobbyists. It’s not just because of big money. It’s because societies don’t turn 50 degrees. Democracies certainly don’t turn 50 degrees… As long as they’re turning in the right direction and we’re making progress, then government is working sort of the way it’s supposed to.”

It’s not our ideal vision of democracy, but the President is not a Philosopher-King. They have to make nasty compromises, sacrificing their agenda for the sake of current realities, both political and practical. And while Senator Sanders is an important liberal voice, and candidate Sanders will force the Democratic Party to care about its base, President Sanders would be a disaster.

Does this make me an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter? Well, no. I have concerns. Her sloppiness with her e-mail does not inspire confidence in her managerial ability, though I doubt there’s a vast conspiracy at play. Furthermore, while her liberal credentials are not nearly as weak as the left believes (she’s to the left of Senator Obama by some metrics), there’s no pretending she is the reconstructive President I think we need right now. But even looking past the fact she’s more likely to win the general election than Senator Sanders, she is willing to compromise and capitulate.  These moral sins are political virtues.


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