Chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times David Sanger spoke on the foreign policy issues Barack Obama will face in the next four years at the keynote address of this year’s Progressive Gala in Ida Noyes Saturday evening.
Sanger, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, recently published The Inheritance, a book that spells out the foreign policy challenges George W. Bush left for Obama to navigate.
The Iraq War “so occupied the mind-share of the top leaders of the United States for so long that we ignored other things that were going on,” Sanger said. He added that the greatest cost of the Iraq War is its “opportunity cost, an opportunity cost to be doing different things.”
The fourth annual Progressive Gala turned its focus to international issues this year, paralleling its expanded scope on campus. The event is the brainchild of the UCDems, and was also sponsored by more than a dozen RSOs, including the Muslim Students Association and Chicago Friends of Israel, which sponsored the event for the first time this year.
Sanger predicted conflict between Israel and Iran as the first foreign policy crisis that Obama will have to face. He identified this as part of the opportunity cost of Iraq. “To this day, we are in a standoff that is far more dangerous because we couldn’t focus on the Iranian weapons program,” he said.
Sanger said he asked Bush why he didn’t discuss Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and said Bush replied with a remarkably candid answer.
“You know, after Iraq, I don’t think I can talk about another nuclear weapons program because they will say ‘Sure, they have nuclear weapons, just like Iraq.’”
Sanger added, “[Iraq] kept the President of the United States from honestly addressing a growing nuclear program next door.”
The theory of the Iraq War, Sanger said, was that the execution of Saddam Hussein would motivate other countries to turn in their weapons of mass destruction. “Countries moved in the exact opposite direction,” he said.
Bush often used proselytizing language to promote the spread of democracy, Sanger said, but that experience has showed “exporting” democracy to be widely ineffective. “Democracy is a really great import for countries, but it’s a really terrible export,” he said.
Sanger said that Obama was briefed on a number of issues in the fall, including nontraditional ones such as global warming and poverty. But just as Bush wasn’t briefed on Al-Qaeda prior to September 11, there were gaps in Obama’s briefings. “What was missing was any report on the national security importance of the financial crisis,” Sanger said. This is an example of the range of problems and the “fluidity of the kinds of threats we face.”
Sanger’s keynote speech was followed by three breakoff roundtables, featuring professor of political science John Mearsheimer, investment portfolio manager for the Chicago Public Schools Steven Biedermann, and deputy executive director of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul College Kari Kammel.
Third-year Olivia Renensland, the Gala’s head and a UCDems member, said that the roundtables, whose featured speakers were chosen by different RSOs, made the event more interactive. “We’re actually thinking that we might amend it so that it’s all roundtables next year,” Renensland said.