International Relations Organization offers open forum for students

By Jake Moerdyke | 12/1/10 9:43pm


Grand Valley State University students participated in a open forum about U.S. foreign policy during the GVSU International Relations Organization’s Nov. 30 event titled “Foreign Policy Today: Realism vs. Idealism debate.”

The IRO club brought three different professors from the Allendale Campus together to form a panel that debated the country’s foreign policy in terms of the views of a political realist versus those of an individualist.

The panel consisted of Dr. Larry Cousineau, a professor of history, Dr. Andrew Schlewitz, professor of Latin American studies, and Dr. Thomas Walker, professor of political science. Each of them represented a different side of the coin for the debate.

Much of the event was dedicated to defining for the audience what the terms idealism and realism mean within the context of foreign policy. Cousineau defined himself as “a realist with a capital R.”

He also defined political realism as a belief that politics is governed by the objective that laws have their roots in human nature. The belief puts forth the idea that humans tend to be selfish, self-serving and short sighted when it comes to politics and international relations, even if the policy is non-threatening.

“A realists looks at all bets in terms of interests are defined in terms of power not philosophies,” Cousineau said.

Cousineau added that in contrast, political idealism imposes a philosophy on foreign policy to achieve an open-ended goal. This goal, he said, has often more of an emotional interest than an interest of the country.

Schlewitz defined his beliefs in regard to the discussion as liberal. He said he uses the term liberal instead of idealist because his beliefs are a mixture of both ideas.

Quoting E.H. Carr’s “The Concluding Chapter,” Schelwitz said, “Any sound political thought must be based on elements of both utopia (idealism) and reality.”

Schlewitz added that he defines himself as a liberal because the “findings of his studies are based on the real world.”

Walker played the role of the intermediate in the discussion and often noted as he spoke that he would put on his “realist hat” for the job.

Heading the discussion on the Obama administration, Walker said while Obama’s policies have been more on the idealistic side of the spectrum, he believes the president is also quite pragmatic with his policy.

“And there we get some overlap (of idealism and realism),” Walker said.

While reading the 2010 national security statement and other measures that the Obama administration has taken, Walker said he sees the language as extremely clear eyed in the way that an idealist might view the world, but the rhetoric is presented in such a way as to make them fit the country’s national interest.

After the ideas of realism and idealism were clearly defined, the floor was opened to students who wanted to ask the panel questions regarding the U.S.’ role in the democratization and policing of the world. Even in the discussion between students, opposite viewpoints were represented.

The ideas of America policing the world was the hottest topic of discussion for students – more specifically the debate about America’s responsibility to “take care” of so many other countries. Students questioned if the U.S. could financially sustain that responsibility if the burden is in fact left on the country’s shoulders.

Students also devoted a large part of the discussion to U.S. involvement in other countries that do not seem to want interference as opposed to the places of the world that do want U.S. assistance but does not receive it.

International students from both Indonesia and Rwanda spoke to this and asked the professors to give their perspectives and students stayed engaged while the panel spoke.

“You have to learn from both perspectives,” said Amber Spencley, President of the IRO club.

Spencley said she was excited that so many people attended the discussion and thought the audience was incredibly willing to participate with the professors.

Matthew Brainovich, secretary of the IRO club, said he believes students need to experience a full spectrum of views and understand the common points to really understand what is happen all over the world.

Amanda Johnson, psychology major, said she came to the event to learn about the ideas of realism in the world.

“I have always been of the opinion that you need to think and that you need to hear opinions that are different from your own,” she said.

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