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Obama's foreign affairs work focused on human rights, poverty, high-profile trips

Obama's foreign affairs work focused on human rights, poverty, high-profile trips

Based on his Senate history, Barack Obama as U.S. president would likely push to expand human rights and reduce poverty abroad using cooperation rather than confrontation. If foreign events permit.
Aside from his vigorous opposition to the Iraq war, Obama spent more of his time on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on speeches and inspirational trips than on investigations and aggressive oversight. He was a junior senator with an agreeable manner who was just beginning to cut his teeth on foreign policy issues when he decided to run for president.
Since he took office in 2005, much of Obama's work attracted little, if any, attention because of the nation's focus on the Iraq war. Obama pushed through legislation that condemned violence by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's government, for example. He helped raise awareness about Darfur and called on the Bush administration to do more to reduce global poverty.
In 2005, he traveled with Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, to Russian nuclear sites. In 2006, he visited the Middle East and Africa, where he and his wife publicly took HIV tests in Kenya to encourage citizens there to do the same.
The young senator's approach to issues attracted the attention of Lugar, the committee's senior Republican. After their visit to former Soviet states, the two co-sponsored legislation aimed at making it easier to detect and destroy weapons stockpiles. More recently, Lugar signed on as co-sponsor of Obama's anti-poverty proposal.
When Obama took charge of the European affairs subcommittee in early 2007, he did not seize the opportunity to scrutinize the Bush administration. With his campaign in full swing, the busy senator did not lead a single policy hearing on any of the hot topics in the panel's jurisdiction: missile defense, counterterrorism and concern over the waning commitment of European countries to NATO.
His approach was in sharp contrast to Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who relied heavily on his full committee chairmanship to push his foreign policy agenda as an aspiring presidential nominee. Also different was Obama's milder approach to questioning top administration officials than the more vocal _ and often abrasive _ senior members on the panel, including Sens. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican.
Obama's aides say it is not unusual for a Senate subcommittee to hold few hearings, with the majority of work being done by the full committee. They also defend Obama's work on the committee as extremely successful.
"While his efforts on the committee don't always get headlines, he's worked across the aisle on critical issues like nuclear nonproliferation, pressing (then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay) Khalilzad for a commitment for no permanent bases in Iraq, stopping the genocide in Darfur, and bringing war criminals to justice," said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor.
But critics say Obama's brief experience in the Senate leaves voters in the dark about how he would handle foreign policy. They also attack some of his positions as naive, including his expressed willingness to meet leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea in his first year of office.
Obama caused a stir last August when he said the United States should act on intelligence about top terrorist targets in Pakistan even if President Pervez Musharraf refuses. His comments prompted Pakistani officials to warn against U.S. incursions into their country.
"Will the next president have the experience?" asked Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, in a thinly veiled reference to Obama. "Or will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan, and suggested sitting down without preconditions or clear purpose with enemies who support terrorists and are intent on destabilizing the world by acquiring nuclear weapons?"
Confronting claims he is light on foreign policy experience, the Illinois senator has surrounded himself with well-known foreign policy advisers, including several who served in the Clinton administration: former national security adviser Tony Lake, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and Susan Rice, who was assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Obama's chief foreign policy adviser on the campaign is Denis McDonough, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. McDonough took the job after Mark Lippert, a Navy reservist, was called to serve in Iraq.
When not campaigning, the senator often used full committee hearings to express his opposition to the Iraq war or his concern about the Bush administration's policy toward Iran.
In January 2007, he sharply questioned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on why the U.S. would not consider drawing down U.S. troops if inaction by the Iraqi government continued. Later that month, he voted for a committee proposal to condemn President George W. Bush's plans to increase troops strength in Iraq as "not in the national interest."
"We are past the point where we can simply take it on good faith from the president that this will work," he said of the president's troop buildup.
He proposed separate legislation that would have required troop withdrawals to begin that spring. Later that year, he introduced a measure intended to prevent a potential conflict with Iran. But like many of the anti-war proposals on Capitol Hill, neither measure came to a vote.
In another committee hearing, Obama voiced skepticism about Biden's suggestion that the Baghdad government could achieve peace by giving more autonomy to its provinces, which are divided along sectarian lines.
The question is whether "we should be initiating (strategy), as opposed to letting that unfold as a consequence of us putting more pressure on the Iraqis to figure out their problems," Obama said.


Updated : 2020-12-03 10:35 GMT+08:00