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Obama Vows Change in Foreign Policy


Presumptive Democratic party presidential nominee, Barack Obama, says he will change the direction of US foreign policy if he is elected president. Experts say the views he has expressed so far in the campaign put him in the American foreign policy mainstream -- though he has come under sharp criticism from his Republican rival over his willingness to meet with leaders of adversary countries. VOA's Bill Rodgers has this report on candidate Obama's foreign policy views.

From pulling US troops out of Iraq, stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and closing down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Obama says, "I want a fundamental change. It's time to turn the page on how we do business and say to the world we are ready to lead. We are ready to lead by deed and example."

His views reflect some of the foreign policy positions of previous American presidents, particularly those of the Democratic party. Harry Truman, John Kennedy and others stressed that the promotion of democracy and human rights cannot be separated from the struggle against poverty and despair.

Peter Beinart, a US foreign policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, explains, "There's more of a sense in Obama, echoing back to [President] Woodrow Wilson, of the idea that we are in a world of common threats, things like global warming, public health threats, economic instability, threaten us as well as other nations so they have to be dealt with through cooperation."

On Iraq, Obama has promised a phased withdrawal of US troops, removing all combat brigades within 16 months. On Iran's nuclear ambitions, he made this pledge in a speech recently to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

"I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama said. "Everything,”

His strong words were aimed at countering Republican rival John McCain, who has denounced Obama as naive and inexperienced in foreign policy matters. Obama's stated willingness to meet with foreign adversaries such as Iran's president has been ridiculed repeatedly by McCain.

"Americans ought to be concerned about the judgment of a presidential candidate who says he's ready to talk in person and without conditions with tyrants from Havana to Pyongyang," said McCain.

Obama has dismissed such criticism, saying previous presidents including Republican Ronald Reagan met with America's enemies. Yet foreign policy expert Helle Dale at the Heritage Foundation says Obama is vulnerable on the experience issue.

“He's not even a one-term Senator, he has not been exposed to a lot of foreign policy issues," she said. "His statements suggest he is someone who does not really understand how international politics works as you do if you follow it for many years."

But Obama counters by saying his background - his mixed racial heritage and having spent part of his youth in Indonesia - will give him a unique perspective in the conduct of foreign affairs.

Peter Beinart says this would make him unlike previous presidents, whose overseas ties were primarily in Europe.

"The fact that he's lived in Indonesia, which is a Muslim country, but also that he himself has roots outside the United States and that he has roots in the Third World, I think will be a powerful thing for people around the world," he said. "And that will have an impact on their leaders."

"Now at the end of the day, America will still have interests that will put it at odds with other countries, that's not going to go away," Beinart added.

Yet the intense interest in Obama and the presidential campaign overseas may be due in part to his unique background - and his promise to turn the page in US foreign policy.

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