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Obama: Clean Break With the Past or Carter-esque Naivete?

2008 Elections and U.S. Foreign Policy


Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)

U.S. Senate photograph
By most conventional measures of an American presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama's foreign policy credentials are light. He has served four years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and made several overseas trip, including a much covered visit to Africa in 2006. But beyond that there are few professional experiences which have informed his views of the world. He doesn't have the direct experiences of Governor Bill Richardson as an international negotiator and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations or Senator Joe Biden as the long time chair or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

And Obama does not have the lengthy military and war time service of Senator John McCain.

Yet Obama does bring something very different to the foreign policy table. His staff and supporters point to his multicultural roots (his father was a Kenyan studying in the United States) and his childhood years living abroad (Indonesia, where he spent four years in grade school) as an indication that he has a more realistic and nuanced view of the world. And they always say his short time in Washington, DC is a positive because it means he hasn't been corrupted by the city's ways.

Obama's Positions

Senator Obama opposed the war in Iraq, and he has promised a withdrawal of all American troops. He advocates a regional conference involving Syria and Iran as one part of an ultimate Iraq solution. He partnered with GOP Senator Richard Lugar in efforts to fight proliferation of nuclear weapons. Obama has also spoken out on the importance of energy independence and the need for U.S. leadership in dealing with global climate change. He seeks significant changes in U.S.-Cuba policy.

But, of course, the most prominent thing voter's know about an Obama foreign policy is that he has said his administration would enter into diplomatic talks with governments the Bush Administration would not. His Web site says:

Obama is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe. He will do the careful preparation necessary, but will signal that America is ready to come to the table, and that he is willing to lead. And if America is willing to come to the table, the world will be more willing to rally behind American leadership to deal with challenges like terrorism, and Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs.
This willingness to talk to foes has been labeled "naive" by his opponent and by John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Moreover, McCain and others have tried to equate Obama's position with that of former President Jimmy Carter, who conservatives also say was not "tough" enough on foreign policy.

In a larger sense, many say the mere presence of a young, African-American in the Oval Office would force allies and adversaries around the world to rethink their perceptions of the United States:

Finally, Newsweek offers this list of Obama's main foreign policy advisors.

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