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Obama Foreign Policy Pledges Focus on Diplomacy


Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has pledged, if elected, to focus on diplomatic engagement and mend ties frayed by the war in Iraq and other unpopular Bush administration policies. VOA's Deborah Tate, at the Democratic Convention in Denver, has a look at how foreign policy would change under a possible Obama administration.

Bush administration critics say the decision to invade Iraq, policies relating to detainees and the prisoner abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib detention facility in Iraq have left the United States more isolated than ever.

P.J. Crowley, who worked in President Clinton's National Security Council and now advises Senator Barack Obama on foreign policy matters, says the candidate has vowed, if elected, to pursue diplomatic engagement and restore America's standing in the world. He made his comments in an interview on VOA's Press Conference USA.

"A President Obama would believe that it is important to engage the world," said Crowley. "It is important to have alliances not just for alliances sake because you attain both effective action and legitimacy, which is very important in terms of dealing with crises wherever they might occur."

Jimmy Carter: Obama could restore U.S. moral authority

Former President Jimmy Carter says the United States has lost its moral authority under the Bush administration. But, in an interview with VOA, he says that could be quickly restored by a President Obama. "In his inaugural address, he could say, 'when I am president of the United States, we will never torture another prisoner; when I am president of the United States; we will never go to war against another country unless our security is directly threatened; when I am president of the United States, we will be champions of human rights all over the earth.' You see, in 10 minutes he could spell out for the world and for America, of course, the changes he could make," Mr. Carter said.

Candidates differ on engagement with Iran

Obama's position on diplomatic engagement contrasts with that of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, particularly on the issue of Iran, according to P.J. Crowley.

"One of the areas where there is a sharp disagreement between a potential President Obama and John McCain is over Iran," said Crowley. "Our relations have been frozen 30 years. Hardliners on both sides have dominated that relationship and made it very difficult for the United States and Iran to come together and have a serious conversation and meaningfully address all the issues that confront us."

But Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia says Obama and particularly his vice presidential running mate, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, are on the wrong side of the issue.

"On the most important national security issue facing this country, which is Iran, Joe Biden has been wrong," said Cantor. "He has continued to pursue a policy of engagement with a terrorist-sponsored regime, which is just not the direction we need to go. When you take into consideration of Iran being a destabilizing influence, a threat to our national security, a partnership they have with Hezbollah, Hamas, and threatens our ally Israel, we have got a serious problem."

North Korea

McCain, in addition to opposing engagement with Iran, also took issue with the Bush administration's move toward engaging North Korea, which administration officials argue has convinced Pyongyang to begin dismantling its nuclear facilities. Republican conservatives have argued the achievement has come after large concessions by President Bush.

Obama has welcomed the administration's decision to engage North Korea.

Iraq approach

Another key foreign policy issue where Obama and McCain disagree is Iraq. Obama has pledged to withdraw most U.S. combat troops within 16 months of taking office. McCain has said U.S. forces must stay in Iraq until victory is achieved without regard to a particular timetable.

Although Obama and Biden initially disagreed on the decision to go to war in Iraq - Biden voted for the war authorization in 2002 while Obama had been opposed - Obama's advisor P.J. Crowley says the positions of both men have come together since then. "I think there is a general consensus that one way or another Iraq was a mistake, costly," said Crowley. "Whatever we achieved there will not redeem what it has cost in terms of Iraqi lives, American lives, and expenditure of a trillion dollars or more."

Crowley says other important foreign policy challenges awaiting the next president include China, Pakistan, and the threat posed by al-Qaida.