Barack Obama on Foreign Policy
Junior Senator (IL); President-Elect
FACT CHECK: An Obama adviser acknowledged in March that Obama’s presidential candidacy prevented him from calling hearings, saying to ABC News: “The record is what it is. He didn’t become chairman of that subcommittee until January of 2007. The fact is that he made his announcement for president of the US in February of 2007. So, he had other things on his mind.”
Critics on the right, who were anything but enthusiastic, sarcastically renamed the bill the "Global Poverty Tax." The legislation "would commit the U.S. to spending 0.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product on foreign aid, which amounts to a phenomenal total of $845 billion over and above what the U.S. already spends.
Now the world will watch and remember. Will we lift the child in Bangladesh from poverty, shelter the refugee in Chad, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time? Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law?
People of Berlin--people of the world--this is our moment. This is our time.
The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil.
As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.
In this new world, such dangerous currents have swept along faster than our efforts to contain them. That is why we cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. And if we’re honest with each other, we know that sometimes, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have drifted apart, and forgotten our shared destiny.
As a youth Obama moved to Indonesia, another former colony, and watched again as his [stepfather's] career was virtually destroyed because he was at odds with the ruling elite.
Source: Obamanomics, by John R. Talbott, p. 39 Jul 1, 2008
A: It is illegal and unwise for the President to disregard international human rights treaties that have been ratified by the United States Senate, including and especially the Geneva Conventions. The Commander-in-Chief power does not allow the President to defy those treaties.
A: The Obama Doctrine is not going to be as doctrinaire as the Bush Doctrine because the world is complicated. Bush’s ideology has overridden facts and reality. That means that if there are children in the Middle East who cannot read, that is a potential long-term danger to us. If China is polluting, then eventually that is going to reach our shores. We have to work with them cooperatively to solve their problems as well as ours.
The key part of the Bush Doctrine is the focus on unilateral action and the use of force to spread democracy around the world. And the worst part of the Bush administration is not the Bush Doctrine but Bush’s implementation of it.
As Obama famously declared in 2002, he did not oppose all wars, but he did oppose a “dumb war.” Isolationism must not be the reaction to a dumb president and a dumb war.
There is no Obama Doctrine because Obama is not a doctrinaire kind of leader who operates according to fixed policies. Instead, Obama believes in a set of principle (democracy, security, liberty) for the world and tries to come up with practical measures for incrementally increasing US security and global freedom. He rejects isolationism and he tries to steer clear of unilateralism.
He will help developing countries invest in sustainable democracies and demand more accountability in return. Obama will establish a $2 billion Global Education Fund to eliminate the global education deficit. He will reduce the debt of developing nations and better coordinate trade and development policies.
Obama also will reestablish U.S. moral leadership by respecting civil liberties; ending torture; restoring habeas corpus; making the U.S. electoral processes fair and transparent and fighting corruption at home.
CLINTON: A president should not telegraph to our adversaries that you’re willing to meet with them without preconditions.
OBAMA: Strong countries and strong presidents meet and talk with our adversaries. We shouldn’t be afraid to do so. We’ve tried the other way. It didn’t work.
Q: [to Dodd]: You’ve called Sen. Obama’s views “confusing & confused, dangerous & irresponsible.”
DODD: I disagreed with Obama on a hypothetical solution that raised serious issues within Pakistan. I thought it was irresponsible to engage in that kind of a suggestion. That’s dangerous.
OBAMA: We should describe for the American people in presidential debates & in the presidency, what our foreign policy is and what we’re going to do. We shouldn’t have strategic ambiguity with the American people when it comes to describing how we’re going to deal with our most serious national security issues.
DODD: Words mean things. When you raise issues about Pakistan, understand that while General Musharraf is no Thomas Jefferson, but he may be the only thing that stands between us and having an Islamic fundamentalist state in that country.
OBAMA: I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize & engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism. Sen. Dodd obviously didn’t read my speech. Because what I said was that we have to refocus, get out of Iraq, make certain that we are helping Pakistan deal with the problem of al Qaeda in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this: the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them--which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration--is ridiculous. Ronald Reagan constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when he called them an evil empire. He understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward. And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them.
CLINTON: I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don’t want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy.
We risk a further increase in isolationist sentiment unless both the administration and Congress can restore the American people’s confidence that our foreign policy is driven by facts and reason, rather than hopes and ideology.
We still have the chance to correct recent missteps that have put our principles and legacy in question. Indeed, it is imperative to our nation’s standing and security to do so. It will take a change of attitude and direction in our national leadership to restore the values and judgment that made and kept our nation the world’s beacon of hope and freedom.
It is our commonality of interests in the world that can ultimately restore our influence and win back the hearts and minds necessary to defeat terrorism and project American values around the globe. Human aspirations are universal-for dignity, for freedom, for the opportunity to improve the lives of our families.
Let us recognize what unites us across borders and build on the strength of this blessed country. Let us embrace our history and our legacy. Let us not only define our values in words and carry them out in deeds.
On February 4, 2008, the tabloid National Enquirer published the photo in an article that asserted Obama was wearing "Muslim attire" on a trip to Kenya. The Obama campaign decried the National Enquirers sensationalism, arguing that Obama was dressed in traditional tribal garb, not "Muslim attire," much as Pres. Bush might take on traditional native costumes when meeting in foreign countries. The Obama campaign was right: Somalia is almost entirely Sunni Muslim, so in that sense the Somali elder garb would of course be Islamic.
A: Well, obviously, having lived overseas and having lived in Hawaii, having a mother who was a specialist in international development, who was one of the early practitioners of microfinancing, and would go to villages in South Asia and Africa and Southeast Asia, helping women buy a loom or a sewing machine or a milk cow, to be able to enter into the economy--it was natural for me, to be interested in international affairs.
The Vietnam War had drawn to a close when I was fairly young. And so, that wasn’t formative for me in the way it was, I think, for an earlier generation.
The Cold War, though, still loomed large. And I thought that both my interest in what was then called the Third World and development there, as well as my interest in issues like nuclear proliferation and policy, that I thought that I might end up going into some sort of international work at some point in my life.
A: In a situation like Darfur, I think that the world has a self-interest in ensuring that genocide is not taking place on our watch. Not only because of the moral and ethical implications, but also because chaos in Sudan ends up spilling over into Chad. It ends up spilling over into other parts of Africa, can end up being repositories of terrorist activity. Those are all things that we’ve got to pay attention to. And if we have enough nations that are willing--particularly African nations, and not just Western nations--that are willing to intercede in an effective, coherent way, then I think that we need to act.
The 15-day trip to Africa was organized to include visits to 5 countries, but the bulk of the journey was to be spent in South Africa and then Kenya. After Kenya, Obama had planned brief visits to the Congo, Djibouti and the Darfur region of Sudan, site of the bloody conflict that was killing thousands of Sudanese a month and displacing millions more.
But Kenya, the homeland of his father, was the physical and emotional centerpiece of the trip. Kenyans had adopted him as one of their own, and had made him a living folk hero in the East African nation.
Many residents lacked basic services, such as clean running water and plumbing. Sewage and garbage were dumped into the open; dwellings were made of canvas and tin with corrugated roofing; and some children appeared less than fully nourished.
The inhabitants, however, were positively gleeful at Obama’s visit. Obama grabbed a bullhorn. “Everybody in Kibera needs the same opportunities to go to school, to start businesses, to have enough to eat, to have decent clothes,” he told the residents, who madly cheered his words. “I wants to make sure everybody in America knows Kibera.
RICHARDSON: What I would like to do is, one, a no-fly zone. Get economic sanctions backed by the Europeans; we should use the levers on China. We need to find ways to stop the massive rapes.
OBAMA: The no-fly zone is important. Having the protective force is critical. But we have to look at Africa not just after a crisis happens; what are we doing with respect to trade opportunities with Africa? What are we doing in terms of investment in Africa? What are we doing to pay attention to Africa consistently with respect to our foreign policy? That has been what’s missing in the White House. Our long-term security is going to depend on whether we’re giving children in Sudan and Zimbabwe and in Kenya the same opportunities so that they have a stake in order as opposed to violence and chaos.
At a rally, Obama rose to speak in public for the first time: “There is a struggle going on. It is happening an ocean away. But it is a struggle that touches each and every one of us... a struggle that demands we choose sides. Not between black & white. Not between rich & poor. No, it is a choice between dignity & servitude. Between fairness & injustice. Between commitment & indifference. A choice between right & wrong.“
By prearrangement, he was dragged off by students dressed as soldiers to dramatize the lack of rights in South Africa. He did not want to give up the microphone. The audience was ”clapping and cheering, and I knew that I had them, that the connection had been made. I really wanted to stay up there, to hear my voice bouncing off the crowd and returning back to me in applause. I had so much left to say.
Like many nations across this continent, where Kenya is failing is in its ability to create a government that is transparent and accountable One that serves its people and is free from corruption. The reason I speak of the freedom you fought so hard to win is because today that freedom is in jeopardy. It is being threatened by corruption.
Corruption is not a new problem. It’s not just a Kenyan problem, or an African problem. It’s a human problem, and it has existed in some form in almost every society. My own city of Chicago has been the home of some of the most corrupt local politics in American history. But while corruption is a problem we all share, here in Kenya it is a crisis that’s robbing an honest people of opportunities.
Pro: He is a mensch. Here on a few things he did on his summer vacation:
Con: Who cares? It is Africa. If we are going to go with a President from a non-European background, let’s go with one whose relatives are from a country whose friendship will help us, like China or India.
Pro: Kenyans love him.
Con: Who cares? It’s Kenya.
CLINTON: I would not meet with him until there was evidence that change was happening.
Q: [to Obama]: Presumably you would be willing to meet?
A: That’s correct. Now, keep in mind that the starting point for our policy in Cuba should be the liberty of the Cuban people. And I think we recognize that that liberty has not existed throughout the Castro regime. And we now have an opportunity to potentially change the relationship between the US & Cuba after over half a century. I would meet without preconditions, although Sen. Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda [including] human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time. But I do think that it’s important for the US not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies. In fact, that’s where diplomacy makes the biggest difference.
A: As a show of good faith that we’re interested in pursuing a new relationship, I’ve called for a loosening of the restrictions on remittances from family members to Cuba, as well as travel restrictions for family members who want to visit their family members in Cuba. And I think that initiating that change in policy as a start could be useful, but I would not normalize relations until we started seeing some progress.
Q: But that’s different from your position back in 2003, when you called US policy toward Cuba a miserable failure.
A: I support the eventual normalization. And it’s absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. During my entire lifetime, Cuba has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms. So I think that we have to shift policy. I think our goal has to be ultimately normalization. But that’s going to happen in steps.
A: I do. Now, I did not say that I would be meeting with all of them. I said I’d be willing to. Obviously, there is a difference between pre-conditions and preparation. Pre-conditions, which was what the question was in that debate, means that we won’t meet with people unless they’ve already agreed to the very things that we expect to be meeting with them about. And obviously, when we say to Iran, “We won’t meet with you until you’ve agreed to all the terms that we’ve laid out,” from their perspective that’s not a negotiation, that’s not a meeting.
Q: You’re not afraid of being used in a propaganda way?
A: You know, strong countries and strong presidents speak with their adversaries. I always think back to JFK’s saying that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we shouldn’t fear to negotiate.
OBAMA: If the US has al Qaeda, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out. I think that’s the right strategy; I think that’s the right policy. This is not an easy situation. You’ve got cross-border attacks against US troops. We’ve got a choice. We could allow our troops to be on the defensive and absorb those blows again and again, if Pakistan is unwilling to cooperate, or we start making some decisions. And the problem with the strategy that’s been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, “Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he’s our dictator.” As a consequence, we lost legitimacy in Pakistan. That’s going to change when I’m president.
A: Ironically, the single thing that has strengthened Iran over the last several years has been the war in Iraq. What we’ve seen over the last several years is Iran’s influence grow. They have funded Hezbollah, they have funded Hamas, they have gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon.
So our policy over the last eight years has not worked. We cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran. Not only would it threaten Israel, a country that is our stalwart ally, but it would also set off an arms race in the Middle East.
We are going to have to engage in tough direct diplomacy with Iran and this is a major difference I have with Senator McCain, this notion by not talking to people we are punishing them has not worked. It has not worked in Iran, it has not worked in North Korea. In each instance, our efforts of isolation have actually accelerated their efforts to get nuclear weapons.
A: Well, it wasn’t so much an event--my first memory was my mother coming to me and saying, “I’ve remarried this man from Indonesia, and we’re moving to Jakarta on the other side of the world.” And that’s my first memory of understanding how big the world was. This was only a year after an enormous coup. But it was for me, as a young boy, a magical place. And I think that probably is when it first enters into my consciousnes that this is a big world. There are a lot of countries, a lot of cultures. It’s a complicated place.
Q: But you were an American in Indonesia. How did that make you feel?
A: Well, it made me realize what an enormous privilege it is to be an American. [Not just] the gap in the wealth. It was also becoming aware that the generals in Indonesia were living in lavish mansions, and the sense that government wasn’t always working for the people, but was working for insiders.
A: Number one is we’ve got to get our own fiscal house in order. Number two, when I was visiting Africa, I was told by a group of businessmen that the presence of China is only exceeded by the absence of America in the entire African continent. Number three, we have to be tougher negotiators with China. They are not enemies, but they are competitors of ours. Right now the United States is still the dominant superpower in the world. But the next president can’t be thinking about today; he or she also has to be thinking about 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now.
We haven’t been doing enough of that. We tend to be reactive. That’s what we’ve been doing over the last eight years. That’s part of what happened in Afghanistan, where we rushed into Iraq and Sen. McCain and President Bush suggested that it wasn’t that important to catch bin Laden right now and that we could muddle through, and that has cost us dearly.
We’ve got to be much more strategic if we’re going to be able to deal with all of the challenges that we face out there.
Regarding Russia: Energy is going to be key in dealing with Russia. If we can reduce our energy consumption, that reduces the amount of petro dollars that they have to make mischief around the world. That will strengthen us and weaken them when it comes to issues like Georgia.
A: Our entire Russian approach has to be evaluated, because an aggressive Russia is a threat to the stability of the region. Their actions in Georgia were unacceptable. It is critical for the next president to follow through on our six-point cease-fire. It is important that we explain to the Russians that you cannot be a 21st-century superpower and act like a 20th-century dictatorship.
We also have to affirm the fledgling democracies in that region--the Estonians, the Lithuanians, the Poles, the Czechs. They are members of NATO. To countries like Georgia & Ukraine, we have to say they are free to join NATO if they meet the requirements.
We also can’t return to a Cold War posture with respect to Russia. It’s important that we recognize there are going to be some areas of common interest. One is nuclear proliferation. This is an area where I’ve led in the Senate, working to deal with the proliferation of loose nuclear weapons.
I know that I don’t look like the Americans who’ve previously spoken in this great city. This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. And you know that the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women from both of our nations came together to work, and struggle, and sacrifice for that better life.
People of the world--look at Berlin!
Look at Berlin, where Germans and Americans learned to work together and trust each other less than three years after facing each other on the field of battle.
People of the world--look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.
Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe. No doubt, there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more--not less. Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.
That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.
A: Actually, the subcommittee that I chair is the European subcommittee. And any issues related to Afghanistan were always dealt with in the full committee, precisely because it’s so important. That’s not a matter that you would deal with in a subcommittee setting.
A: It would be a mistake. Look, if we’re going to do something about nuclear proliferation--just to take one issue--we’ve got to have Russia involved. The amount of loose nuclear material that’s floating around in the former Soviet Union, the amount of technical know-how that is in countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain--without Russia’s cooperation, our efforts on that front will be greatly weakened.
OBAMA: Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who’s one of his advisers, who, along with five recent secretaries of state, just said that we should meet with Iran--guess what--without precondition. This is one of your own advisers.
McCAIN: My friend, Dr. Kissinger, who’s been my friend for 35 years, would be interested to hear this conversation and Senator Obama’s depiction of his -- of his positions on the issue. I’ve known him for 35 years. And I guarantee you he would not -- he would not say that presidential top level.
OBAMA: Nobody’s talking about that.
So who’s right? Kissinger did in fact say a few days earlier at a forum of former secretaries of state that he favors very high-level talks with Iran--without conditions. On Sept. 20 Kissinger said, “I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level... I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations.”
After the McCain-Obama debate, however, Kissinger issued a statement saying he doesn’t favor a presidential meeting, saying, “I would not recommend the next President engage in talks with Iran at the Presidential level. My views on this issue are entirely compatible with the views of my friend Senator John McCain.”
Q: According to a recent poll out of Jerusalem, Israeli Jews favor John McCain for President 43% to 20%. Why do you think that’s the case?
A: Well, I’m not as well known as John McCain. I think that’s obviously a factor. And, you know, I think, understandably, Israelis are very interested in making sure that whoever takes the White House is absolutely committed to their security, regardless of other issues. And they know John McCain. He’s been there. Despite the fact that my record is as strong as John McCain’s on all the issues related to Israeli security, people just don’t know me as well. That’s part of the reason why we’re gonna spend a day visiting there in discussions and hopefully give people confidence that I have a track record that will assure not only the people of Israel, but friends of Israel back home, that, in fact, Israel’s security is paramount.
A: I will not hypothesize on that. I think Israel has a right to defend itself. But I will not speculate on the difficult judgment that they would have to make in a whole host of possible scenarios.
Q: This is not a speculative question then. Was it appropriate, in your view, for Israel to take out that suspected Syrian nuclear site last year?
A: Yes. I think that there was sufficient evidence that they were developing a site using a nuclear or using a blueprint that was similar to the North Korean model. There was some concern as to what the rationale for that site would be. And, again, ultimately, I think these are decisions that the Israelis have to make. But, you know, the Israelis live in a very tough neighborhood where a lot of folks, publicly proclaim Israel as an enemy and then act on those proclamations.
A: There was no backtracking. We just had phrased it poorly in the speech. But my policy has been very consistent. It’s the same policy tha Bill Clinton has put forward, and that says that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, that we shouldn’t divide it by barbed wire, but that, ultimately that a final status issue that has to be resolved between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
A: The truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech. The point we were simply making was, is that we don’t want barbed wire running through Jerusalem, similar to the way it was prior to the ‘67 war, that it is possible for us to create a Jerusalem that is cohesive and coherent. I think the Clinton formulation provides a starting point for discussions between the parties. The intention was never to move away from that core idea that a Jewish state depends on their ability to create peace with their neighbors, and that the Palestinian leadership has to acknowledge that the battles that they’ve been fighting, and the rhetoric they’ve been employing, has not delivered for their people.
A: Well, keep in mind what the remark actually, if you had the whole thing, said. And what I said is nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel, to renounce violence, and to get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region. Israel is the linchpin of much of our efforts in the Middle East.
Pro: Obama will be uniquely positioned to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict.
A liberal Democrat who is not trusted by Israeli experts is exactly what the US and the world needs. Only by treating Palestinian rights with dignity can the Middle East problem be resolved.
Con: President Obama will be widely detested in the Muslim world.
If Obama comes to power, it will be on the basis of blending authentic Christian religiosity with an inspiring message of tolerance and diversity. Unfortunately, this message runs exactly opposite to the core values of fundamentalist Islam.
Proponent's argument to vote Yes:Rep. HOWARD BERMAN (D, CA-28): Integrating India into a global nonproliferation regime is a positive step. Before anyone gets too sanctimonious about India's nuclear weapons program, we should acknowledge that the five recognized nuclear weapons states have not done nearly enough to fulfill their commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, including making serious reductions in their own arsenals, nor in the case of the US in ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Opponent's argument to vote No:Rep. BARBARA LEE (D, CA-9): In withholding my approval, I seek not to penalize the people of India but, rather, to affirm the principle of nuclear nonproliferation. Jettisoning adherence to the international nuclear nonproliferation framework that has served the world so well for more than 30 years, as approval of the agreement before us would do, is just simply unwise. It is also reckless.
Approval of this agreement undermines our efforts to dissuade countries like Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. By approving this agreement, all we are doing is creating incentives for other countries to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
OFFICIAL CONGRESSIONAL SUMMARY:
SPONSOR'S INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: Sen. OBAMA: There is a country embroiled in conflict that has not yet received the high-level attention or resources it needs. It's the Democratic Republic of Congo, and right now it is in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe.
31,000 people are dying in the Congo each month and 3.8 million people have died in the previous 6 years. The country, which is the size of Western Europe, lies at the geographic heart of Africa and borders every major region across the continent. If left untended, Congo's tragedy will continue to infect Africa.
I believe that the United States can make a profound difference in this crisis. According to international aid agencies, there are innumerable cost-effective interventions that could be quickly undertaken--such as the provision of basic medical care, immunization and clean water--that could save thousands of lives. On the political front, sustained U.S. leadership could fill a perilous vacuum.
EXCERPTS OF BILL:
LEGISLATIVE OUTCOME:Became Public Law No. 109-456
Congressional Summary: A resolution expressing strong support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to enter into a Membership Action Plan with Georgia and Ukraine:
Legislative Outome: Resolution agreed to in Senate without amendment and with a preamble by Unanimous Consent.
A resolution condemning the violence in Tibet and calling for restraint by the Government of the People's Republic of China and the people of Tibet. Calls for:
A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the political situation in Zimbabwe. Expresses the sense of the Senate:
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Newly elected in 2008 & seated in 2009:
Newly appointed in 2009;
special election in 2010:
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Up for 6-year term in 2010:
(13 Democrats; 15 Republicans)
Senate Votes (analysis)