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Obama Tends Toward Mainstream on Foreign Policy

Sen. Barack Obama listens to advisers Samantha Power and Richard J. Danzig at a foreign policy forum in New Hampshire last fall. The two are part of an eclectic team that advises the candidate on his signature foreign policy issue, the war in Iraq, as well as on issues such as Iran to which he has more unorthodox approaches.
Sen. Barack Obama listens to advisers Samantha Power and Richard J. Danzig at a foreign policy forum in New Hampshire last fall. The two are part of an eclectic team that advises the candidate on his signature foreign policy issue, the war in Iraq, as well as on issues such as Iran to which he has more unorthodox approaches. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
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While he has described a residual U.S. force "over the horizon," Obama indicated in response to questions that Iraq withdrawal would not be total. "There will be far fewer Americans in Iraq conducting a much more limited set of missions," he said. "The precise size . . . will depend on consultations with our military commanders and . . . the circumstances on the ground, including the willingness of the Iraqi government to move toward political accommodation."

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He would give "great weight" to the recommendations of the military, Obama said, but would "make my own assessment of the situation." Asked if he would replace uniformed leaders in the Pentagon and overseas who are closely associated with current Iraq policy, he said such assignments would be based "on performance alone." He added that he would also listen to the counsel of "other senior military leaders" known to be concerned that Iraq has overstretched the Army and undercut overall security.

Obama repeated his pledge to end the Bush administration's "politicization of intelligence" and said he would give the director of national intelligence -- who currently serves at the pleasure of the president -- a fixed term, similar to that of the Federal Reserve chairman.

In the past, he has said that he would send at least two additional U.S. combat brigades to Afghanistan. In the written responses, Obama pledged to "focus more Special Operations resources along the Afghan-Pakistan border, including intelligence-gathering assets," presumably to position them to act on terrorist intelligence if Pakistan's effort was deemed insufficient. He said he would increase nonmilitary assistance to Afghanistan by $1 billion and "condition elements of our aid to the Pakistani government on their actions to pursue al-Qaeda [and] . . . to fully restore democracy and the rule of law."

Obama said reestablishing diplomatic relations with Iran, North Korea and Cuba is "one carrot I might consider," in addition to talking to their leaders without preconditions. But normalization, he said, "would require the countries meeting their requirements on key U.S. and international demands, which in the case of Iran, for example, would mean verifiably ending its nuclear program and its support for terrorism" -- President Bush's baseline for initiating talks.

Along with other Democrats, Obama has rejected all forms of torture "without equivocation" and has pledged to close the prison for alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He has said he would restore the right of habeas corpus, dismantle the special military commissions established by Bush and try the remaining detainees in regular military courts. In his written responses, however, Obama said that either "our civilian courts or our traditional system of military courts-martial" could undertake the task.

On Cuba -- where Bush tightened earlier limits on family visits and remittances -- Obama said he would lift all restrictions on both.

Obama has pledged to give a speech in a "major Islamic forum" to "redefine our struggle" against fundamentalism within his first 100 days in office. Aides have said the speech would take place in an unspecified Muslim-majority country. Asked what form the redefinition would take, Obama differed little from standard Bush rhetoric on the subject, saying he would "make it clear that the United States is not at war with Islam . . . [and] stands ready to support those who reject violence with closer security cooperation . . . [and] increased foreign assistance."

Highly critical of the administration's public diplomacy efforts, he has called for opening new U.S. consulates and cultural centers -- many of which were closed under Bush for budgetary and security reasons. In a plan reminiscent of the Peace Corps, he has said he would establish an "America's Voice Corps" of "talented young Americans" to spread a positive image overseas.

He has pledged to provide $5 billion over three years to improve international intelligence and law enforcement cooperation; double U.S. aid to develop fair and accountable law enforcement and financial systems overseas; fully fund lagging debt relief to the poorest nations; and spend $2 billion on education to counter fundamentalist Islamic madrassas in countries such as Pakistan.

Like other Democratic and Republican leaders, Obama has called for expanding the foreign service and the military, and for improving cooperation between them. He has emphasized safeguarding international nuclear stockpiles and strengthening ties with the United Nations, and has said he would start a "rapid response fund" to provide aid, debt relief and technical assistance to "newly hopeful countries."

Support for Israel

Obama's support for withdrawal from Iraq has already come under fire from McCain and his Republican allies. Another campaign flashpoint is likely to be Israel.

Postings on some conservative Internet sites suggest Obama is "anti-Israel" because of his openness to talks with Iran, and because of "anti-Semitic" statements by the pastor of his Chicago church, his associations with prominent U.S. Palestinians and his early upbringing in Indonesia, a majority Muslim country. His recent omission of Israel as one of the closest U.S. allies brought a new round of assaults.

In late January, Obama held a conference call with reporters from American Jewish and Israeli media so they could hear his commitment to Israel expressed "from the horse's mouth." He denounced what he called a "constant and virulent smear campaign . . . that I know has been particularly targeted towards the Jewish community." In statements last week, Obama suggested that some of the attacks have come indirectly from Clinton supporters.

But overall, he has reacted cautiously. The campaign has solicited statements from prominent Jewish Americans and major organizations. In carefully worded speeches to American Jewish groups, he has stressed an absolute commitment to Israeli security and played down anything remotely likely to cause controversy.

Rashid Khaliki, a prominent Palestinian who once held a Chicago fundraiser for Obama, recently decried his position on Arab-Israeli issues as "almost indistinguishable from all the other candidates."


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