Occidental Students Analyze Obama's Foreign Policy in New Report

Students at Occidental College, where President Barack Obama '83 first became interested in public service, in a new report analyzed the Obama administration's relations with five countries gaining international clout and laid out changes and opportunities the United States faces.


Produced under the guidance of Derek Shearer, former U.S. ambassador to Finland under Bill Clinton and now Occidental's Chevalier Professor of Diplomacy and World Affairs, the 116-page"Obama and the Rising Powers: The Occidental College Report"focuses on five countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Turkey. Twenty-three Oxy students, most of them juniors and seniors majoring in diplomacy and world affairs, give an overview and analysis of the economy, military, government and society, and foreign policy of each country.

"I wanted the students to understand the strengths and weaknesses of these rising countries, to examine the enhanced role they are playing in the international arena, and to analyze how the U.S. is responding to the challenge of these significant players on the global stage," Shearer said.

Most Brazilians, for example, view the United States positively, and the country is becoming one of the dominant players in world trade, the students wrote. Yet the United States has been slow to build a stronger relationship with Brazil, such as through building economic cooperation or providing more resources to fight drug trafficking.

The students who researched China noted that the country's increasing military strength makes neighboring countries nervous. Consequently, "there is an opportunity to ... provide more support, both diplomatic and economic, to other nations that have at least a marginal reason to distrust China's expanding military influence," the report states.

Cultivating long-term mutually beneficial relationships with these countries is no easy feat. Shearer noted that while India is considered neutral, China and Russia are former enemies from the Cold War, and Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship or authoritarian government for most of the previous century. Only Turkey, as a member of NATO, could be viewed as an ally of the United States.

One conclusion reached by the students is that while President Obama's emphasis on engagement instead of unilateralism has improved America's image abroad, that alone may not be an effective foreign policy strategy.

"More than halfway through his first term, there is still no clear Obama doctrine, just a seemingly set of pragmatic responses to world events," Shearer said.

The students based their report on recent books such as Post-American World by CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria, as well as by meeting with and listening to campus lectures by leading experts. They include The Atlantic magazine journalist and author James Fallows, who wrote about living and working in China in Postcards From Tomorrow Square; former ambassador to Turkey Mort Abramowitz; and Sergei Plekhanov, former advisor to Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

"Obama and the Rising Powers" is the third annual report that Occidental students have produced on international issues and U.S. foreign policy. In 2008, Oxy students wrote "Rebranding America," which analyzed the decline in America's standing in the world. In 2009, students wrote "Obama's First Year,"which examined whether the foreign policy promises he made on the campaign trail were made good once he stepped into the Oval Office.

Those two reports were sent to the president, as was this year's report, this time in care of Samantha Power, a member of his National Security Council and Occidental's 2011 commencement speaker.