Citing his status as “the son of a Kenyan goat herder [with] family in Kenya,” Senator Barack Obama is arguing that his life experience makes him “uniquely suited to show the world a new face of America.”
Should he be elected president of the United States, Mr Obama adds in a campaign paper on global development, he will encourage a more favourable view of the US by engaging with “all nations — foe and friend.”
This inclusive approach will reverse a widespread perception of “American arrogance and obstrutionism,” the candidate declares.
Mr Obama also pledges to double US assistance to developing countries, bringing the total amount of American aid to $50 billion a year by 2012. Such an investment would pay dividends, he says, because “the security and wellbeing of each and every American is tied to the security and wellbeing of those who live beyond our borders.”
US relations with African nations are given emphasis in Mr Obama’s set of international policy proposals.
He promises, for example, to launch an Add Value to Agriculture Initiative aimed at triggering a Green Revolution in Africa. This programme would forge US government partnerships with charities, universities and businesses to spur research on “improved seeds, irrigation methods and affordable and safe fertilisers.”
Mr Obama would also commit the US to helping African nations achieve the Millennium Development Goals. He promises to use new US aid to “build healthy and educated communities, reduce poverty, develop markets, and generate wealth.”
The paper’s focus on issues of high concern to Africa reflects the influence of Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Ms Rice ranks as one of Senator Obama’s top foreign policy advisors. She worked in the administration of President Bill Clinton, as did former National Security Advisor Tony Lake, another key figure in the Obama campaign.
These Clinton administration officials’ alignment with Mr Obama indicates that they view him as potentially more effective than Senator Hillary Clinton.
The London-based Economist magazine recently described Mrs Clinton’s global vision as “mostly dull but sensible.” The former first lady has offered proposals similar to Mr Obama’s in some respects and likely to be viewed by many Africans as superior to the policies pursued by President George W. Bush.
But among the leading Democratic presidential candidates, “Barack Obama has probably thought the hardest about foreign policy,” the Economist observed. “When replying to questions, he tries to answer them, rather than simply shooting out scripted sound-bites.”
Sarah Jane Hise, a Washington-based researcher with the non-governmental Centre for Global Development, agrees that Senator Obama’s global policy proposals stand out among those offered by the Democratic candidates.
“Obama has so far been the most complete in covering a range of global development issues beyond just aid, including agricultural development, trade, climate change, investment and security,” Ms Hise says.
She also gives Ms Clinton a positive evaluation. The New York senator “does a good job of focusing on specific policies related to health and education, including a proposal to spur innovation and the development of drugs to treat diseases that primarily affect poor countries, such as malaria and pneumococcal disease, through an advance market commitment for vaccines,” Ms Hise observes.
But the two leading Democratic candidates can be sharply critical of one another’s views and records.
In a testy exchange two weeks ago, Senator Clinton derided Senator Obama’s claim that the four childhood years he spent in Indonesia helps him understand the world better than his rivals. The Obama campaign shot back by linking Mrs Clinton to the disastrous war in Iraq.
Voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges that the next president will face,’’ Mrs Clinton said. “I think we need a president with more experience than that.’’
As the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination tightens, the frontrunning Senator Clinton, 60, has been suggesting that the 46-year-old Senator Obama cannot match the knowledge she has acquired by living in the White House for eight years and by visiting Iraq, Russia and African countries.
Referring to the US vice president and to the former Pentagon chief, an Obama campaign spokesman said in response to Mrs Clinton’s criticisms: ‘’Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld have spent time in the White House and travelled to many countries as well. But along with Hillary Clinton, they led us into the worst foreign policy disaster in a generation.’’
As a US senator, Mrs Clinton voted to authorise the invasion of Iraq. Senator Obama, then a member of the Illinois state legislature, strongly opposed the 2003 US invasion.
Mr Obama’s international policy proposals are not limited to feel-good appeals to help poor nations.
The Kenyan-American candidate also calls for intensified US efforts to combat corruption in the developing world. The aim should be not only to prevent waste of American taxpayers’ money but to alleviate the injustices experienced by bribe-payers, Mr Obama says. His policy paper cites the graft routinely demanded in “police encounters, school admissions processes and housing accessibility.”
The senator promises to add a section on corruption to the State Department’s annual country reports on human rights.
Mr Obama makes clear that he will take a hard line on international terrorism. Calling for a $5 billion global offensive, he pledges to “take down terrorist networks from the remote islands of Indonesia to the sprawling cities of Africa.”
Kenyans campaigning for their country’s inclusion in World Bank and International Monetary Fund debt-forgiveness initiatives will be disappointed by this section of Senator Obama’s policy paper. It urges full funding for the IMF’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries programme (HIPC) but does not call for countries such as Kenya to be made eligible for HIPC debt relief.
Senator Obama also makes only vague references to the reforms of the World Bank and IMF that he says he would seek as president.
The US Agency for International Development, which underwent significant downsizing during the Bush years, would be “restructured and empowered” by an Obama administration, the paper says. An expanded global Aids relief programme and the Millennium Challenge aid initiative would be consolidated within USAid along with other international assistance efforts now housed in more than 20 US government agencies.