Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Obama Shapes an Agenda Beyond Iraq War

By Josh Gerstein for the New York Sun

Senator Obama's early opposition to the war in Iraq is the best known of his views, but voters taking his measure as a potential president will discover that he is a leader in securing stray weapons from the former Soviet Union, a key backer of American aid to the Congo, and that he would tend to support a missile strike on Iran if other methods fail to get Tehran to abandon its nuclear program.

In most respects, the Illinois Democrat's positions on foreign affairs are more fleshed out than one might expect for a leader concluding his second year in the Senate, though they lack the breadth and detail set forth by some of his colleagues who have spent decades in the public eye.

When he took office in 2005,Mr. Obama became the most junior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, the issues section of his Senate Web site, which lists his views on crime and aid to senior citizens, gives few details of his thoughts on America's role abroad.

Mr. Obama's foreign policy positions, gleaned from his speeches and writings, are squarely in the Democratic Party mainstream, though he often goes out of his way to distance himself from some on the left who downplay the dangers facing America. His statements and associations in foreign policy circles also suggest he might, as president, be more willing to use force to intervene in humanitarian crises than other presidents have. It seems certain he would make promotion of human rights a more serious factor in American diplomacy. He would also be likely to impose stricter rules on CIA interrogators — rules that some argue could hamper intelligence gathering and ultimately cost American lives.

In his new, best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope," Mr. Obama devotes a 53-page chapter to international issues. In one passage, he scolds self-described liberals for saying in a poll last year that their top foreign policy concerns were "withdrawing troops from Iraq, stopping the spread of AIDS, and working more closely with our allies."

"The objectives favored by liberals have merit. But they hardly constitute a coherent national security policy," Mr. Obama declares. Alluding to the Vietnam War, he says, "It's useful to remind ourselves, then, that Osama bin Laden is not Ho Chi Minh, and that the threats facing the United States are real, multiple, and potentially devastating."

On Iraq, Mr. Obama has been calling for more than a year for a "phased redeployment" of American troops. He also favors a conference of regional powers, including Iran and Syria, to discuss Iraq's future. He has shied away from rigid deadlines and has even spoken of keeping American troops in Iraq if Iraqis can settle their differences. "He's been very thoughtful and judicious about what our stakes are in the conflict," a State Department and National Security Council official under President Clinton, Susan Rice, said. "He basically presaged the Iraq Study Group's comments."

Mr. Obama has also taken pains to make clear that he is not a pacifist. "I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars," he said at an anti-war rally in 2002. "What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne."

Like other Democrats, Mr. Obama has faulted the Bush administration for not pushing harder for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. The senator has also been publicly supportive of Israel and enjoys significant support in the Jewish community in Illinois. "He has long-standing position papers going back early into his Senate campaign which have been very strong on the defense of a safe and secure Israel," a Chicago lawyer who traveled with Mr. Obama in Israel in January, Alan Solow, said.


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