David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, spoke Monday afternoon about differences in the foreign policy agendas of the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
In front of roughly 50 attendees in Linsly-Chittenden Hall, Sanger discussed the “fearsome list of global problems” that President Obama faced upon taking office, including the threat posed by al-Qaeda and the toll of the war in Iraq. The United States has reduced both its cultural and military presence worldwide under Obama’s leadership, Sanger said, calling the trend a “downside” of foreign policy over the past few years.
“We need an assessment about how President Obama has handled this remarkably challenging time,” Sanger said. “It has been, I think, one of the most consequential three or four years.”
Sanger said the United States has lost “some degree of control over the world” since the 1950s and ’60s, when the nation exerted “soft-power” influences such as constructing public buildings in other countries and generally exposing societies to American culture.
Over the past few decades, Sanger said the United States may have been “pulling back too much, in a soft-power way.” As U.S. initiatives have decreased, Sanger said China has exerted more soft-power influences and increased its presence on the global stage. He noted that when he travelled to a remote village in Indonesia two years ago, he observed a large public library that had been built there by the Chinese government.
Sanger suggested the Obama administration has followed a two-pronged “Obama doctrine” in making foreign policy decisions. When direct threats face the United States, Sanger said the Obama administration has taken unilateral actions and favored “get in and get out” missions to lengthy operations that drain U.S. finances. But when issues do not directly concern the United States or are “for the global good,” Sanger argued that the nation has preferred to work in coalitions, citing last October’s joint U.S.-NATO military effort to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya last October.
Sanger also said the Obama administration has confronted foreign policy decision in which the country’s values have conflicted with its interests. He cited U.S. negotiations in 2011 with the Bahrain government on human rights violations in the country, which Sanger said were somewhat compromised because Bahrain is the home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Three students and one prospective student interviewed said they enjoyed Sanger’s talk and were impressed by his knowledge of foreign affairs.
Emefa Agawa ’15 said she had concerns about the influence of the national media on American perceptions of foreign policy, but was reassured about the media’s role after hearing Sanger’s informed discussion.
Phil Wilkinson, a prospective freshman visiting from New Mexico for Bulldogs Days, said he attended the talk to sample Yale’s international affairs scene.
“I was really impressed with Mr. Sanger’s real-world knowledge,” Wilkinson said. “It tied up a lot of loose ends regarding the Obama administration and international policy.”
David Sanger’s upcoming book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” will be published this June.