Occidental Students Grade Obama's First Year

What has President Barack Obama ’83 accomplished on the international front so far?

Is he on a foreign policy path that will clash with the ideals of his Nobel Peace Prize? Some Occidental College students majoring in politics or diplomacy and world affairs sought to answer those questions in the new study, "Obama’s First Year – The Occidental Report."

The report -- available free online at http://oxyworldwide.com/ -- was a semester-long project of American Grand Strategy, an advanced seminar taught by Derek Shearer, former U.S. ambassador to Finland and the Chevalier Professor of Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College, where Obama studied for two years.

"It is a solid piece of work," Shearer said, "and one that has educational value for American students and concerned citizens, and for their counterparts around the world."

The students -- all juniors or seniors -- examined the largely centrist foreign policy team that Obama assembled as well as the president’s cool, deliberative decision-making style. Then they analyzed 10 international "hot spots" in which U.S. engagement is key, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and Venezuela. For each crucial region, the students rated the president on the consistency of his messages and actions and discussed the often fragile diplomatic relations the U.S. has with these nations.

The student authors also looked at Obama’s foreign relations statements on the campaign trail, and compared them with his plans or actions as U.S. president and de facto leader of the free world. They found "engagement" to be the theme for Obama’s new American grand strategy, as evidenced by his sending special envoys to troubled areas in the Middle East and elsewhere. Finally, the students analyzed the immediate challenges Obama faces in the years ahead, such as the outcome of the most recent troop surge in Afghanistan, and the increasing sense of malaise in the U.S. over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The students concluded that Obama has been consistent overall with the foreign policy promises he made during the 2008 campaign. But they also sounded a cautionary note.

"It is too soon to tell whether or not his first term in office will be considered a failure or a success," stated the report’s editors, Katherine Wright ’11 and Krystal Zayas-Wright ’10.

Shearer asked his students after they had completed their analysis whether they were still "in love" with Obama, as many college students seemed to be during the 2008 campaign. The answer?

"‘No,’ they said, more ‘in like,’" Shearer reported. "They admire and respect him, but also question his performance in office."

"It may be that this is the end of the beginning, that more innovative and far-thinking policies are ahead that would deserve a Nobel Prize," he added. "Or it is possible that we are in for more of the same – engagement but conventional thinking on foreign affairs."

Copies of the report have been mailed to the president’s foreign policy team, along with an open invitation for him to return to the College and discuss international affairs with the students.

For more information about the report, "Obama’s First Year – The Occidental Report," go to: http://oxyworldwide.com/ .

For more information about Occidental College, go to : www.oxy.edu.