Kevin McCarthy debates US interventionism at the Union
On the 28th of October, the Oxford Union hosted former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the debate “This House Believes US Interventionism Has Done More Harm Than Good”.
McCarthy is a Republican politician, who served as speaker of the House of Representatives from January 2023 October 2023. He was voted out on the 3rd of October, just a few days after the publication of the Oxford Union’s term card. He is the first Speaker in US history to be removed from his position.
In March and April 2023, McCarthy sparked major US foreign policy controversies. He refused an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, citing concerns about the necessity of aid in Ukraine. McCarthy’s invitation to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen also led to significant Chinese military exercises near Taiwan.
The debate started with roasts of the opposition, including the hope for McCarthy that “this house has more confidence in him [than the last one]”. They also joked that “[this is the] last time he will be speaker of the house for a while”.
Speakers even poked fun that the Union “only needs one ballot to make a decision, not 15” in reference to McCarthy’s election as speaker, which took 15 ballots.
The first speaker of the proposition, Jenny Heath, started by saying “with great power comes great responsibility”. She then demonstrated that the US had failed its foreign policy objectives, and had even in fact aggravated local and global tensions. She concluded with the statement: “Peace at the expense of innocent lives is no peace at all”.
Leo Buckley, the second speaker for the proposition, argued that the “more harm than good” motion set a low bar. He pointed out that McCarthy’s bill reduced funding to Ukraine, a relatively uncontroversial recipient of US aid.
Buckley presented a printed 58-page document detailing American interventions since WWII and accepted a point of information on its length, answering that the US had more foreign interventions than the British Empire. He also criticised US interventions primarily serving its self-interest in promoting “neo-liberal capitalism” to benefit the wealthy.
The third speaker, Aryan Dhanwani, told the story of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala, and of the “Banana Massacre” in Colombia. Dhanwani memorably brandished a banana during his speech, and said “God knows how many coups the US has failed”. The fourth, Alex McGovern, stated “the US supports democracy as long as the country supports US interest”, and that US interventionism was always self-motivated.
The first speaker of the opposition, Peter Chen, started his speech by asking if we wanted the US to pursue an isolationist policy, and named positives of non-military US interventions, such as food and vaccine programmes.
The second speaker, Democrat Jim Himes, argued that the US is an “indispensable nation” on the world stage, and that the definition of intervention should encompass both hard and soft power.. He asserted that without US intervention in WW2, there could have been “concentration camps in Edinburgh” and a nuclear bomb strike on London.
Himes also emphasised US support for Israel, stating that “Israel shares the values of the US and everybody in this chamber”, which was met with a mixed response.
The third speaker, Frank Luntz, delivered his speech without notes. Luntz is a political communications consultant, who notably wrote a report titled “Israel’s Global Language Dictionary” to create a more favourable impression of Israel and US foreign policy in the media. He spoke nostalgically of his time in Oxford, particularly as a member of the Union. In that time, he counselled Boris Johnson during his election as Union President.
His speech mocked Donald Trump on multiple occasions, said he was happy to have democrats and republicans on the same side of a debate, and encouraged the audience to drink to “freedom, peace, prosperity, and protection”. He also claimed that when the US doesn’t act, the world looks and asks why not, using the genocide in Rwanda as an example.
Finally, the much awaited speaker Kevin McCarthy took the stand. He began engaging with the audience asking whose first language was German, Russian, or Italian. In reference to US involvement in WWII, when the majority showed their first language was English McCarthy said “you’re welcome”.
The former speaker made a historical comparison to foreign affairs today, pointing to similarities with the 1930s, with Iran, Russia, and China being an “evil axis of power”.
He concluded “peace without freedom is meaningless”, that America gives lives for others to have freedom, and that America is “more than a country, it’s an ideal”.
The motion “This House Believes US Interventionism Has Done More Harm Than Good” did not pass in a close call with 175 voting against and 160 in favour.