[eDebate] Initial Thoughts of Middle East Controversy

Andrew D. Barnes barnesad
Mon Apr 16 15:47:10 CDT 2007

The topic paper points out that it learned from the "mistakes" of the 
China topic. I recall three problems, a "term of art" that had no real 
definition, many thought the resolution was too broad (essentially 
change a foreign policy to...), and bi-directionality (both hard 
line/soft line options for the aff).

I have only done some cursory searches but it seems that we may have the 
same term of art problem that we experienced before in that the term 
constructive engagement is frequently cited in the literature but does 
not seem to have a concrete definition. All definitions that I have 
found are contextual and change based on the country being discussed and 
those definitions change over time. This points to two issues: there is 
no definition that can be used for each country we might consider to be 
the "middle east" and there is no static definition for each country 
that can be applied over time. Therefore, as a limiting term, it seems 
fairly nebulous. Now, some people have argued that it implies a "quid 
pro quo". While this is an interesting interpretation, it carries 
baggage in that people have contextually discussed passive constructive 
engagement [no quid pro quo](human rights) and active constructive 
engagement [quid pro quo](trade) when the U.S. deals with China. I have 
not found any definitions for the middle east or countries listed in the 
topic paper on this question ... yet. However, active and passive 
understandings of constructive engagement problematize quid pro quo 

It also appears that this topic might be too broad. The topic paper 
notes that economic assistance is; private sector development, water 
resources, democracy and governance, health, community services, higher 
education, stabilization of populations, sustainable management of the 
environment and meeting humanitarian needs. Neither constructive 
engagement nor security guarantees/assistance seem to narrow plan 
action. I'm all for affirmative flexibility but can anyone explain to me 
how this topic might be more limited than it appears besides through a 
list of countries of course? Right now it seems as though we have 
selected "change a foreign policy to the Middle East".

Finally, I'm concerned that the wording in the topic paper is not 
sufficient to solve the problem of bi-directionality if, we as a 
community adopt an interpretation that constructive engagement is a quid 
pro quo. Now, this is just a simple thought experiment to me but it 
seems that the affirmative could offer a plan of economic assistance and 
security guarantees based on x action of Iran, implying of course that 
both economic assistance and the security guarantees of the plan are 
null and void if Iran does not comply. The aff could then read the 
following advantage; a. Iran says no to the quid pro quo, b. U.S. 
attacks Iran, c. Attack Iran Good. I understand that this might not be 
strategic but it does point to directional issues for this topic as well 
that have the possibility for implicating negative ground.

I point out these three things out not to bemoan the topic selection of 
the community (although I was hoping for prolif ;-)) or to take jabs at 
Steve and Mike but rather to start addressing issues early so as to not 
repeat the "overrule" problem that we had last year. I am confident that 
we can work these issues out and I will be working hard to do so with 
the topic committee this summer but I do think input and discussion of 
these issues before the topic committee meets would be helpful.

- Andrew

Andrew D. Barnes
Assistant Director of Debate, Lecturer of Communication Studies
2268 Harrison Hall
MSC 2106
James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA 22802
barnesad at jmu.edu

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