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Concord Monitor - Obama Outlines Diplomatic Path

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Location: Concord, NH

Concord Monitor - Obama Outlines Diplomatic Path
Candidate stresses global connections

Monitor staff

To prosper in a global community, the United States needs economic and diplomatic expertise, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told voters yesterday in Portsmouth.

In a three-hour forum on foreign policy, the Illinois senator and his top foreign policy advisers stressed diplomacy and economics, rather than military reliance, and criticized the Republican party for doing otherwise.

"We know what we're going to get from the Republican nominee - more Bush-Cheney foreign policy," Obama said. "More support for open-ended war in Iraq. More saber-rattling toward Iran. More refusing to talk to countries we don't like. More exceptions for torture."

In contrast, Obama said, "My opponent won't be able to say that I ever supported the war in Iraq, or that I support using our troops in Iraq to counter Iran, or that I support the Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to leaders that we don't like."

Obama spoke at the third of three panel discussions. Participants included experts from the Clinton administration such as Tony Lake, former assistant to the president for national security affairs, and Susan Rice, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

The experts took questions from approximately 100 invited voters on topics ranging from United Nations reform to energy policy and outlined how an Obama foreign policy based on diplomacy and economics would differ from the current administration's.

Obama stressed global interdependence, meaning that expanded trade and technology will bring both new opportunities and new threats. He contrasted what he called competing Democratic and Republican narratives. "One story is based on fear. It says there are all these terrible people out there out to get us, there are immigrants flooding our borders, and we have to batten down the hatches and stop change coming," he said. "There's another story to tell that says we have very real threats but the only way to solve them is . . . reaching out to people, encouraging greater understanding, encouraging greater immigration. . . . We have to make sure we have our act together."

Obama said economic policy is central to national security. If a country participates in the world economy, it has a stake in maintaining that position and is more likely to resolve conflicts diplomatically, he said. Additionally, "Countries that successfully compete economically will end up also being able to protect themselves and will be militarily strong," he said. "Countries that try to hang on to their status simply militarily are in for a fall. . . . There's a homeland security element of making sure we're training our scientist and engineers, revamping our school systems and making sure our entire workforce adapts to a new economy, and that's something we haven't heard from this administration."

He cautioned that to gain support for an economic policy that encourages global trade, policies need to spread the benefits among average workers, not concentrate them among the top 1 percent, as he said happened under Bush.

Obama said the U.S. needs to lead on policies such as increasing energy efficiency and addressing climate change. It also needs to re-engage with the world, through teaching foreign languages, creating a career path for young people to reinvigorate the foreign service, and developing relationships with other countries through business and culture. "We should have a civilian corps that is as effective in what they do as our military is in what it does, and we don't have that right now," he said. As president, Obama said he will create a civilian assistance corps, where volunteer experts such as doctors, engineers and agriculture specialists could be trained and deployed.

Even in conflicts, Obama stressed diplomacy and civilian engagement over military force. "We need a President who is willing to talk to all nations - friend and foe," he said. "Not talking doesn't make us look tough, it makes us look arrogant, and makes it harder to get international support." For example, in assembling peacekeeping troops for a UN force in Sudan, Obama said the administration has not done the "diplomatic legwork" to find committed troops and persuade the government to accept them.

On Iran, Obama said, he would "present Iran with a clear choice - stop their disturbing behavior and there will be political and economic incentives; continue doing what they're doing, and we will ratchet up the pressure. And we'll be in a much stronger position to get the kind of international support that we need to pressure Iran if we go the extra mile diplomatically."

His advisors illustrated how these policies could play out in conflicts around the globe.

In an interview with the Monitor, Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and expert on human rights and genocide, said Sudan is a case where the president must talk to an unsavory enemy. "You have to be in the room with a genocidal government," Power said. "He may be evil but he's evil with guns, and part of what you're trying to do is convince him to turn the guns away."

She said Obama supports economic sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes against the regime, and would work with allies to get troop commitments for a peacekeeping force and to rebuild the country. "It's like in baseball, being able to hit, throw, field," Power said. "You've really got to be able to do that, and we've just emphasized hitting. We don't field and we don't pitch."

Lake, talking about the regional summit in Annapolis to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, showed a rare moment of agreement with the Bush administration when he said, "We shouldn't criticize the administration that's finally started doing things we've always called them to do." But he quickly added that unlike Bush, "We need a president who engages personally rather than leaves it to the secretary of state."

Lake said Obama agrees with the exclusion of Hamas from such a meeting, since Hamas does not recognize the state of Israel or previous peace agreements. In an interview, Lake explained that Hamas is different from politicians such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Obama has said he would meet without preconditions, because Hamas is not a recognized government.

"He did not say he would talk to Osama bin Laden, he did not say he'd talk to anybody under any conditions," Lake said. "This is a particular case in which the world community has laid down certain conditions . . . to say therefore you'd talk to Hamas without Hamas at least agreeing to the conditions the quartet has laid out. . . . There is a big difference between Hamas and, say, the government of Iran."

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