Harvey Stromberg Lecture
May 12, 2010
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Speaking to over 60 people on SMC’s main campus Friday night, former KCRW talk show host and retired SMC history professor Harvey Stromberg gave a lecture on Barack Obama’s foreign policy.
Stromberg took an unusual approach in his lecture. He explained U.S.-international relations through the eyes of Barack Obama – even speaking in first person as the president. “I will tell you, speaking as Obama, what I’ve done in office for a year and a half,” he said. “I want you to understand from his point of view.”
The lecture’s central argument was that Obama has ushered in a new foreign policy that differs from George W. Bush’s go-it-alone, unilateral approach. He cited instances such as Obama shaking the hand of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, making overtures to Cuba and sending an ambassador to Syria as evidence of this.
The lecture, which was hosted by the SMC Associates, ended with a brief Q-and-A and a recetion where attendees could socialize. In attendance at the lecture were AS President Cameron Henton and AS President-elect Tiffany Inabu. Henton, who had Stromberg as a professor for History 11, says he always enjoyed Stromberg’s teaching style.
“He was great,” said Henton. “He always played the devil’s advocate in class.”
Students for Social Justice President Cameron Quinn, questions Stromberg’s assertation on Obama. “I don’t think it’s a new foreign policy,” he said. “It’s hard to have a new foreign policy when you are fighting all the old wars.”
Quinn cited U.S. belligerence toward Iran and the escalation of the Afghanistan war as evidence that Obama has not structurally changed U.S. foreign relations.
When it came to the issue of Iraq, Stromberg argued that Obama will make good on his campaign promise to remove U.S. soldiers from the country by the end of 2011. “The pressure on Obama to leave is going to be tremendous,” he said. “Obama wants to leave. He sees it as Bush’s war.”
But Quinn feels that is a difficult argument to make, considering the United States still has soldiers in Germany and Japan 65 years after WWII and has built what many say are permanent military bases in Iraq. And then there is the issue of military contractors and mercenaries, such as Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, who are not part of the withdrawal equation.
“If you take out all the combat troops, what’s left?” he said. “Plenty of non-combat troops and military bases. That really doesn’t sound to me like a withdrawal from Iraq.”
Stromberg also spent time discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He says Israeli settlements and the Palestinian right of return are holding up the peace process. The Palestinian right of return refers to U.N. General Assembly resolution 194, which states that refugees should be allowed to return to their homes as soon as possible and compensated for losses.
Stromberg feels the U.S. has a legitimate role to play in the Middle East peace process despite the U.S. subsidizing the Israeli military and the Israeli lobby’s significant influence in Washington, D.C. He cited Obama’s first trip to the Middle East where he purposely did not visit Israel to send a message to Arab nations.
“He is trying to be more even-handed,” he said.
SMC Political Science Professor Christina Caldwell says it is too early to make any pronouncements about Obama’s foreign policy. Since taking office, she says, Obama has focused more on domestic issues than international relations.
“The examples of some overtures toward Cuba, a new ambassador, shaking hands with Hugo Chavez aren’t in my opinion anything that is a major change,” said Caldwell. “They are sort of symbolic more than anything else.”