Former NU president, Political Science professor discuss Obama’s foreign policy


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Former Northwestern president Henry Bienen (left) speaks at a Political Union event Monday. Bienen and Political Science Prof. John Rielly, former president of the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, discussed Obama’s foreign policy.

Sam Krevlin, Reporter

Former Northwestern president Henry Bienen said President Barack Obama hasn’t been assertive enough abroad, despite issuing many bold executive orders domestically.

“Sometimes, force really matters,” said Bienen, a political scientist who was once dean of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “He has used drones to go after individual terrorists and has used force selectively, but he hasn’t used enough force or used it wisely enough to have really controlled the outcome in any of these places.”

Bienen and Political Science Prof. John Rielly, former president of the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, discussed Obama’s foreign policy during Monday’s Political Union event, “Conversations with the Presidents.” More than 30 students attended the event at the Buffett Institute, which focused mainly on Obama’s policies in the Middle East and North Africa.

Rielly disagreed with Bienen’s assessment, praising Obama’s sanctions against Russia, warming relations with Cuba and authorizing the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The two also had differing opinions on the Iran nuclear deal, the agreement the Obama administration struck with the Middle Eastern country last year aimed at preventing the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Although Rielly said the deal was one of Obama’s greatest achievements, Bienen said it will take time to ultimately conclude if it was the proper decision.

Bienen added that he thought Obama was too focused on striking a deal with Iran and ignored human rights abuses, including the beating and jailing of Iranian dissidents.

But Rielly countered that because of Obama’s leadership of the six involved nations, Iran may be prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon, something that should not be taken lightly.

On the topic of the Islamic State, however, Bienen and Rielly agreed that Obama underestimated its power. Rielly called the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, the most urgent threat for the president at the moment.

“There is no question that in not committing American troops to combat ISIS, he has delayed the potential defeat of ISIS,” Rielly said. “This has had an enormous impact not only in the area, but on Europe with the refugees, which the Europeans have not successfully addressed.”

Bienen also criticized Obama for initially likening the Islamic State to a “JV team” of extremists in January 2014.

Political Union co-president David Gernon said helping students understand the complexities of international politics is central to the group’s mission.

“A lot people take a simplistic view of foreign policy,” the Medill sophomore said. “Bienen and Rielly can provide the nuances in opinions.”

Weinberg freshman Bryan Lee, who attended the event, said he appreciated hearing two varying perspectives on Obama’s foreign policy decisions. Although Lee said he has criticized Obama for actions such as his decisions in Syria, he believes Obama has done well in foreign policy overall.

“I think Obama has done the right amount, considering under Bush we extended ourselves too much, and I feel some restraint was necessary after that,” Lee said.

Email: [email protected]