January 13, 2016
Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have fled the country, creating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Most have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, but many have risked death to reach Europe and the possibility of a better life. Unlike Europe and Syria’s neighbors, the United States has had the advantage of picking and choosing from afar, taking in just over 2,000 Syrian refugees since the war’s start. The Obama administration has pledged to take another 10,000 in 2016, but there are some who suggest that we are falling well below the number that we can and should accept. What are our moral obligations, and what are the cultural, economic, and security issues that must be taken into account? Should the U.S. let in 100,000 Syrian refugees?
October 14, 2015
Is China’s ascendancy a threat to the U.S.? China’s rise as an economic and military power, coupled with its aggression in the South China Sea, have led some to call for a major rebalance of U.S. policy and strategy. Can China be trusted to act as a responsible global stakeholder? And will they be a long-term ally, or adversary?
August 09, 2015
In June 2014, the Sunni militant group ISIS declared that it had established a new caliphate spanning territory in Syria and Iraq. Since then, the region under its control has expanded, despite airstrikes and the deployment of U.S. military advisors, and Jihadist groups across the Muslim world have pledged their allegiance. What should the Obama administration’s next steps be? Should the U.S. goal be containment, or can ISIS be defeated?
May 26, 2015
In April 2015, the P5+1, the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, negotiated an interim nuclear accord with Iran. Among the key parameters: Iran’s enrichment capacity, enrichment levels, and stockpile would be limited; its Fordow site converted into a research center; and the Arak heavy water reactor redesigned. In return, the IAEA would gain greater access for inspections, and U.S. and EU sanctions would be lifted. Many in the U.S. fear that a deal as outlined would not go far enough and, instead of being a benefit, would strengthen Iran’s hand in the Middle East. Not to mention the important question of trust. Is this agreement a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to halt nuclear proliferation, or does President Obama have this wrong?
March 31, 2015
The President has launched a sustained, long-term military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But did he have constitutional power to do so? The Constitution carefully divides the war powers of the United States between Congress and the President. Article II provides that “The President shall be Commander in Chief.” But Article I provides that “The Congress shall have Power … To Declare War.” In this case, Congress has not declared war; the President ordered the attacks unilaterally. Did he exceed his authority and violate the Constitution?
February 11, 2015
America owes $6 trillion to China, our sprawling military complex often appears helpless against disparate threats abroad, and the War on Terror has stripped us of the moral high ground. Washington is paralyzed by bitter partisanship, our children are falling behind their international peers, and our middle class is no longer the world’s most affluent. But we’ve been warned about America’s decline before. Remember Sputnik? Yes, times are tough, but America is recovering from the Great Recession faster than almost any other advanced country, an energy boom could add billions to the GDP, we’re still a leader in technological innovation, and our military strength and geopolitical advantages remain unrivaled. Are our best days behind us, or should the world still bet on America?
September 30, 2014
The rise of ISIS, the disintegration of Iraq, Syria’s ongoing civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the promise and peril of the Arab Spring... What role should America play in the Middle East? For some, America’s restraint has been a sign of disciplined leadership. But for others, it has been a sign of diminished strength and influence. How do we strike a balance between our national interests, moral obligations, and the maintenance of world order? Are we simply recognizing the limitations of our power, or does this embattled region require a bolder, more muscular, American presence?
March 12, 2014
Disarming Syria. Asylum for Edward Snowden. Arming Iran. Deploying troops to Crimea. Is Vladimir Putin flexing his muscles, while our own president fades into the background of world politics, or is it all a global game of smoke and mirrors? Russia is one of the world’s largest oil producers and has the power of veto on the U.N. Security Council, but it remains an authoritarian state, rife with corruption and economic struggles. Is our toxic relationship something to worry about, or is Putin’s Russia fading in importance?
March 05, 2014
With the drone strike on accused terrorist and New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, President Obama has tested the limits of the executive branch’s powers. Does the president have constitutional authority under the due process clause to kill U.S. citizens abroad, or is it a violation of this clause to unilaterally decide to target and kill Americans?
February 12, 2014
Has Edward Snowden done the U.S. a great service? There is no doubt that his release of highly classified stolen documents has sparked an important public debate, even forcing what could be a major presidential overhaul of the NSA’s surveillance programs. But have his actions—which include the downloading of an estimated 1.7 million files—tipped off our enemies and endangered national security? Is Snowden a whistleblower, or is he a criminal?
November 20, 2013
The NSA collects data on billions of phone calls and internet communications per day. Are these surveillance programs legal? Do they keep us safe? If not for the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, most Americans would be unaware of the vast amounts of information their government is secretly collecting, all in the name of national security. But whether you believe leakers are heroes or traitors, an important public conversation has finally begun, and we should ask ourselves: What tradeoffs are we willing to make between security and privacy?
September 10, 2013
Remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, have been the centerpiece of America’s counterterrorism toolkit since the start of the Obama presidency, and the benefits have been clear. Their use has significantly weakened al Qaeda and the Taliban while keeping American troops out of harm’s way. But critics of drone strikes argue that the short-term gains do not outweigh the long-term consequences—among them, radicalization of a public outraged over civilian deaths. Is our drone program hurting, or helping, in the fight against terrorism?
August 09, 2013
There are certain international crises that on their face demand the immediate and urgent attention of presidents. We all know them when we see them -- and so does the man in the White House. Saddam's invasion of Kuwait comes to mind -- an easy call. But there are other situations where the call may be tougher to make. Bosnia got a president's attention; Rwanda did not. And what about Syria -- now in the midst of a civil war and humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. Certainly there are U.S. interests at stake, but are they vital interests? And what of President Obama's response so far: it has been deliberately limited, but should he go further, and with what sorts of options? Military intervention? Something else? Something less? One thing is certain: Syria is not one of those easy calls. It's what we're debating in Aspen, when we take on the topic: The U.S. has no dog in the fight in Syria.
June 19, 2013
Political gridlock in Washington triggered across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, in March. As a result, the Pentagon was given six months to eliminate $41 billion from the current year’s budget, and unlike past cuts, this time everything is on the table. In 2011, America spent $711 billion dollars on its defense—more than the next 13 highest spending countries combined. But the burdens it shoulders, both at home and abroad, are unprecedented. Could the sequester be a rare opportunity to overhaul the armed forces, or will its impact damage military readiness and endanger national security?
January 16, 2013
Over the summer of 2012, despite increased international pressure and economic sanctions, Iran doubled the number of nuclear centrifuges installed in its underground Fordow site, stopping just short of the capacity to produce nuclear fuel. President Obama has rejected Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call to draw a “red line” that would trigger U.S. military action. But what would the costs and benefits of military action be? Can Israel live with a nuclear Iran, or could the time be near for a pre-emptive strike?
October 03, 2012
The popular uprisings of the Arab Spring have left a leadership void that Islamist parties have been quick to fill. A longtime supporter of former strongmen like Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali, the U.S. now faces the uncomfortable result of Arab democracy—the rise of Islamist parties that are less amenable to the West than their autocratic predecessors. Will the Islamists, who once embraced violence, slowly liberalize as they face the difficulties of state leadership? Or will it mean the growth of anti-Americanism and radicalization in the region?
March 13, 2012
For all appearances, China has emerged unscathed from the global economic crisis, in stark contrast to its biggest debtor, America. China’s admirers point to its ability to mobilize state resources, quick decision-making and business-friendly environment as reasons for its economic ascendency. But can its brand of state-directed capitalism overcome rampant corruption and the threat of growing inequality, or will the American model of innovation and free markets prevail?
January 10, 2012
On September 23, 2011, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appeared before the U.N. General Assembly to request full membership for the State of Palestine. America’s veto power renders their bid largely symbolic, but there could be leverage gained– like indirect recognition of statehood– in the process. After 20 years of failed talks with Israel, can this plea to the international community be the only path left to a two-state solution, or have the Palestinians set the peace process back by bypassing negotiations?
September 07, 2011
Days after 9/11, President Bush declared a War on Terror that would “not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” Is America in a state of perpetual war, or has the threat of terrorism justified its position as the organizing principle behind our foreign policy? In 10 years we’ve been in 2 wars, witnessed the Arab Spring and the death of Osama bin Laden–is it finally time to end the War on Terror?
April 05, 2011
Just two decades ago there seemed to be no limits to American power. 9/11, the financial crisis, and the rise of China are all reminders of what a different world we live in today. What should America’s role be in the new world order? Are we guilty of overreach, or have we not been ambitious enough?
November 22, 2010
On Christmas Day, 2009, twenty-three-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 using explosives hidden in his underwear. A string of missed opportunities and errors by government security agencies culminated in what President Obama would declare a “systemic failure.” Is scanning everyone with expensive, high-tech equipment the best use of limited resources? Or should we use the information that we have—the knowledge that, while not all Muslims are terrorists, most terrorists are Muslim.
November 10, 2010
Has the surge in Afghanistan failed, and is it time for the U.S. to admit defeat and start pulling our troops out? Nine years in, what have we accomplished in Afghanistan? Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama ordered an additional 17,000 troops in February and another 30,000 at year’s end in the hopes of staunching a rapidly deteriorating situation. Has the surge failed, or does it need time to take its course? Critics of the war are advocating everything from withdrawing our troops and concentrating on covert forces, to saving the north and abandoning the south to the Taliban. Only one thing is certain—there are no good options, but can the U.S. afford to abandon Afghanistan?
September 14, 2010
In 2009 the Justice Department announced that 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would be tried in New York City, setting off a firestorm of protests. Besides the cost and safety concerns, at issue are whether terrorists should be tried in criminal court or whether national security requires the use of military commissions. Likewise, issues like the closing of Guantanamo, the reading of Miranda rights, and enhanced interrogation all center on the same question: How should the U.S. treat captured alleged terrorists? In a war with no foreseeable end, whose actors are neither criminals nor soldiers; can we keep America safe and still bring terrorists to justice.
June 08, 2010
It could be the greatest strategic irony of the last twenty years: the American lead in digital technologies – upon which our financial, communications and defense systems are built, and on which they depend – may also represent a serious American Achilles heel. The sophistication of our mobile phone networks, of the GPS system that guides air traffic, even of the networked command-and-control that drives our power grids, may be without rival. But it also provides one great big and sprawling target to enemies determined to discover the choke points that can cripple us in a time of war. At least that’s the scenario as described in various, and increasingly alarmed media accounts, especially in the wake of incidents like the hacking of Google last year, by digital assailants often described (without clear confirmation) as being based in China. It’s indeed alarming, to contemplate fighting the next war with both hands tied behind our backs because a canny enemy figured out how to shut us down electronically. Alarming – but possibly, also, alarmist? Can we really be that vulnerable? Is our digital undergirding really that exposed, especially given that the Internet itself – the foundation of all this critical connectedness – was itself initially developed as a military undertaking? Even if our enemies – state enemies or terrorists – manage to cause damage in one corner of American cyberspace, don’t we have enough redundancy built in to protect us? As one technology writer has put it, this is one of those topics where the internet press likes to get worked up into a lot of “heavy breathing.” So which is it? Are we at existential risk in the event of a well coordinated cyber attack, and if so, are we taking measures to protect ourselves? Or will the first cyber war be a war we are already positioned not only to survive, but to win?
May 11, 2010
What might Machiavelli have made of the 44th President of the United States? Barack Obama set out to change the tone of US foreign policy. And he did. By virtue of his personal story, by dint of his not being George W. Bush, he arrived in the White House as both object of fascination and source of relief to a world grown accustomed to resenting the US itself. Here is a president who acknowledges that we hold no monopoly on the legitimacy of our interests, who aspires to finding the common ground in resolving disagreements with friend and foe. His caution, his deliberativeness, his stated willingness to at least try to negotiate even with our bitterest enemies and to cool down the rhetoric – played so well out of the gate, that they gave him the Nobel Peace Prize – after just 262 days in office. But is love enough to lead? Or might the president need some wins along the way? For the most part, they’ve been hard to come by. None yet in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Iran’s mullah’s don’t seem to feel an urgent need to end the nuclear standoff. Seeking a new balance in America’s dealings in the Middle East, Obama asked Israel to stop building settlements, but the building goes on. And the Chinese seem to understand his less than aggressive stance in pressing for human rights as a green light to change nothing. Even when the stakes were less than life and death – his bid to bring the Olympics to Chicago – he was denied. Not that any of this is easy. And it may be that some of these more serious challenges would by now be more difficult still if Obama had not set a new tone. But might the opposite be true? Might our adversaries see the president’s coolness as uncertainty and his deliberativeness as weakness? Can they exploit his affinity for common ground, by pushing to gain more ground for themselves? By acknowledging that all sides can have legitimate interests, as well as legitimate grievances, is the president yielding the high ground? Most importantly, are we safer now that we are living in the era of president number 44? It comes down to being respected, which is not the same as being liked. Americans have always aspired to have it both ways. Machiavelli would have us choose.
February 09, 2010
Israel believes America’s special relationship is vital. It is, certainly, to Israel. But what about for the US? Israel has no oil, enemies in many places, and a tendency to defy Washington when it perceives its own interests to be threatened, which is not infrequently. In a zero sum Middle East, does America’s coziness with Israel cost us in good will with Muslim world, including those oil-rich Arab states whose dollar holdings come back to the US in the form of investments and loans, which the US economy needs – especially now? But there’s an important connection between the US and Israel – that goes deeper than finance or energy convenience. It’s a foundation of mutual loyalty and shared values – democracy being only the most obvious. There has also been a history of shared intelligence, military cooperation, and significant cross-fertilization of scientific knowledge. To sacrifice these connections to improve relations with the Arab world would be an act of betrayal — of an ally — and of what we say we stand for. Should the US consider putting some distance between itself and Israel? Would such a change in policy serve American interests, or is it a move we would come to regret?
December 01, 2009
America is to blame for Mexico's drug war. Nearly 10,000 people in Mexico have died in drug-related violence since January 2007. Who or what is to blame? Some say it is America’s insatiable consumer demand for illicit drugs and the constant flow of our guns, which arm the cartels. Others believe that Mexico’s own government is ineffective in controlling the trade of the drug cartels because of rampant corruption in law enforcement in the country. The US Congress, unable to ignore the rising violence spilling over the border, has approved $700 million in security aid for Mexico, and has promised hundreds of federal agents and intelligence analysts devoted to the problem. Officials on both sides wonder whether this will make a dent in the problem. Has our own “war on drugs” been ineffective, or even counterproductive? Should Mexico’s government take full responsibility for what goes on within its own borders? Should the very idea of criminalization of drugs be re-examined?
May 12, 2009
Debate description coming soon
December 02, 2008
Debate description coming soon.
October 07, 2008
Debate description coming soon.