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RFD for Obama Foreign Policy Debate

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1/21/2016 6:31:52 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
This is an RFD for the debate between SolonKR and TheProphett given here:

Congratulations to both of you on making it to the finals of this tournament.

While this was a good debate, guys, it did seem quite a bit more lopsided than I expected, not to mention overly focused on one region of the world. While I agree that the Middle East is a very important part of the world, I think the absolute focus there was to the detriment of the overall debate, particularly for Con who didn't really exploit the opportunity to push Pro out of his comfort zone and focus on a wider swath of issues.

Pro's Case:

This is constructed very strongly, though I think there was ample opportunities to attack it and do some real damage.

Framework: Truth be told, I don't much like either side's framework. Pro's framework gets some justification, but the overarching focus on impacts that affect the U.S. is not well explained. Why impacts solely affecting other countries don't matter is never clearly stated, and while Con doesn't respond with clear reasons why impacts separate from those that affect the U.S. should matter, I'm not ever feeling like either framework is justified. Frankly, I'm not sure why a framework mattered at all, since I can assess this debate on net benefits in general and still be coming to the same basic conclusions. The only point that this could have mattered is if there was some means for comparison between impacts, but honestly, so many of Pro's points could apply to the net benefits of other countries that he never really needed this means of outweighing.

The pre-rebuttal on the "Bush" argument was obviously warranted in this debate, but I'd recommend against such pre-rebuttals in the future. These become red flags, telling the other side specifically what you're expecting and giving them opportunities to essentially make you waste your words. Focus your opening round on arguments.

C1) Drone Warfare

A solid point, nice explanation as to why drone strikes are generally bad. This reasoning is never really attacked by Con, so there's not much to say about it. Con does try to mitigate this by saying that the problems aren't as bad anymore, but that's really not any reason to dismiss Pro's argument, nor is the idea that more militants are killed than civilians. That MIGHT outweigh if Con had provided substantive reasoning as to why militant deaths prevent other deaths, but then I need a comparison of outcomes: what would have happened if no drone strikes had occurred versus what actually happened. Pro's the only one that gives me that analysis: drone strikes haven't contained ISIS, therefore they're doing nothing of substance. I don't agree with that line of reasoning, but it is on the flow and never addressed.

This is where we start with the counterplans, which, I have to say, are a little baffling. First off, given that this is a fact debate and not a policy debate, it's really strange to be discussing potential alternatives. It's basically a game of "what if" history. Second, it really doesn't make a lot of sense to do this unless you're arguing comparative good and harm, something you rejected with the "don't compare to Bush" argument. Sure, there are potential worlds where things could have gone better, but things can still be good in the absence of those improved worlds. Third, it really doesn't do much for your case to tell me that there were alternatives. If anything, these just offer other reasons to doubt. Con could easily have just pointed out that all of the alternatives you provided can invite all manner of harms, and then said that Obama had no options but bad ones, meaning that he didn't have any control over the incidence of a negative outcome. I can see why you'd do this, but I think it's far more risky than beneficial.

That being said, Con's lack of response to the counterplans hurts him. Con just tells me "yeah, well hindsight is 20-20," and that Obama made the right decisions for the time. But neither of those responses work. All of the options that I can see were available ahead of time and simply not accessed " I don't know why these are only available through hindsight. If Obama made the right decision in context, then Con needs to give me the context and explain why the decision is made right within it. Both of these just end up looking like assertions, and they leave the counterplans as clear explanations of how Obama could have been successful. I don't think they would have necessarily produced better outcomes, but I'm not given reasons why they wouldn't, so they go right through.

C2) Libya

This goes much the same as the previous point. Pro's point is that involving ourselves in Libya was a mistake, and that if we really wanted to do so, then we needed to "come in full force". He tells me why the decision not to engage in either non-action or full action did harm to the region.

Con's response just seems to dodge around these points. The reality that Qaddafi was a bad guy doesn't necessarily justify the response. Even if it did, it doesn't justify the lackluster response that the U.S. gave. Con tells me that Obama had the best of intentions and that the situation just got outside of his control, but justifying the decisions as he made them doesn't tell me why the result is good, which is what Con had to accomplish.

C3) Syria

Once again, a clear, clean contention about what harms have been caused by our involvement in another nation. Frankly, I felt this was one of the most tenuous, since Pro's suggesting that everything Assad did should have essentially been ignored, but that's beside the point since Con doesn't give that response. This point could have used more elucidated harms, but it's still clear that the ongoing conflict may have been preventable... albeit I'm not convinced personally.

Con's response that Syria is a different ballgame is correct, but never really addresses Pro's views of what should have been done. Saying "nobody can be sure" what the results of intervening would have been doesn't do him any favors, as it doesn't explain why Obama's course of action was beneficial. Reluctance may be beneficial in certain cases, but I need more than an assertion that minimal intervention is always the best intervention.

C4) Conclusion

The remainder of this is really just a bunch of statements that are meant to make me think, but don't actually affirm the resolution. It doesn't look much like a conclusion, but at least it gets me thinking, so props there.
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1/21/2016 6:32:23 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
Con's Case:

Framework: See above. Neither side really explains why I should prefer their framework, and it doesn't end up mattering anyway because it just comes down to basic net benefits.

C1) Iraq

This point falls into the trap that Pro set in his first round. The comparison between Bush and Obama does nothing to bolster Con's case, it just tells me why Obama is good by comparison to Obama and not why Obama is good in his own right. Perhaps if Con had spent some time setting this up in some way, it would have changed things. If, for example, Con had said why Bush had put Obama into a no win scenario where all options lead to bad results, and Obama chose the best possible outcome, effectively making the "good" choice, that would have helped. Or if the focus had been on an explanation of how we characterize good by comparison to other individuals, that might have been worth examining. Lacking that, there's little reason for me to care about this point.

What's left is a general argument on the context of the war, and while that might have been an interesting point to dig down into and perhaps beneficial, it didn't get elucidated to that degree. You really have to get down to why it was, in the context of the time, the most beneficial act to take, or why all other acts that could have potentially led to some major benefits were essentially impossible given that context. Lacking that, this just comes off as an assertion. So when Pro tells me that it's still the fault of the Obama administration for not understanding that the Iraqi government wasn't prepared to do what was necessary, even if they thought they were fully equipped, that's enough to place the blame back on Obama and leave this point as little more than minor mitigation.

C2) Economic Isolation

This is certainly Con's strongest point. It sets the stage for a point about how best to respond to major threats from other countries, how Obama has effectively employed that strategy, and why it's important to a broad array of situations, which could have outweighed the country-by-country argument given by Pro.

Trouble is that we only get to the second part in that three part series. The first is skipped, with Con assuming that other responses are worse merely because full scale invasion puts troops at risk (really should have addressed more alternatives than that, or at least spent more time explaining why physical conflict is generally bad), and we never get to the last, as this turns into a discussion of the benefits we gained from dealing with Iran.

Still, it's a fair point, since it analyzes why economic isolation worked in this instance and why Iran's having caved was beneficial. Preventing the acquisition of a nuclear weapon can be huge, though I think Con missed an opportunity to terminalize that impact and really make it more substantial (nuke war, anyone?). The main problem is that Pro did get off a response, and while that MAD solves is flippant, Con never attacks that point, which leads me to believe that Iran is and has always been a non-threat in this area, which makes all of the benefits of economic isolation in this instance effectively worthless. Maybe there's some benefit if MAD doesn't succeed, but I don't get any reason to believe it won't, so Con's impact is at best minimal, at worst non-existent.


I think it's pretty clear from the above that Pro is winning this debate. He stays focused on the idea of detecting harms that have resulted from Obama's foreign policy actions and giving plenty of reasons why he was not locked into those choices and had other options available. Con's responses just never hit the same level of impact, and there's a lot missing from his analysis to really link it to the resolution. Since Pro's points survive mostly unscathed by the end, while Con's points seem to diminish substantially by R4, I'm left with little choice but to vote Pro.