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Obama pledges to double U.S. foreign aid if elected president

Mike Dorning
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

CHICAGO - Sen. Barack Obama accused President Bush Monday of weakening America's global leadership with a "squandered" response to terrorism as the Democratic presidential candidate committed himself to repair relations with allies and the nation's standing around the world.

The Illinois senator pledged to double U.S. foreign aid if elected president, arguing that improvements in stability and living conditions in poor nations would reduce the appeal of terrorism abroad and bolster the security of Americans at home.

Delivering his presidential campaign's first major address on foreign policy to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Obama said the U.S. must resist the temptation to turn to isolationism in response to the losses the nation has suffered in Iraq. And he declared "The American moment is here.

"America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America," Obama said. "We must neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission."

Obama presented the challenges of terrorism, nuclear weapons and global warming as an opportunity to enhance America's influence over the world by stressing moral leadership, strengthened alliances and a vigorous U.S. engagement around the globe.

His address provided a withering critique of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq and response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as "based on old ideologies and outdated strategies." He said the Bush administration's uneasy relations with allies and public scandals over mistreatment of prisoners have done long-term damage to the nation's ability to counter the terrorist threat.

"The president may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open. And it's time to fill that role once more," Obama said.

Responding to the criticism of Bush, Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee said, "Voters want a leader, not someone who continues to throw around criticism and empty rhetoric."

Obama offered a spirited defense of the value of strong ties with foreign allies and international institutions such as the United Nations, arguing they magnify American power more than they constrain it. And he said the United States should counter the challenge of Islamist terrorism with a greater emphasis on winning the support of the public in developing nations.

That vision echoes the foreign policy ideas of past Democratic presidents who helped shape the U.S. response to the Soviet challenge during the Cold War. President Harry Truman constructed an alliance system that includes NATO to contain the Soviet Union. The Truman Administration's Marshall Plan provided aid to post-World War II Europe to blunt Soviet influence and President John F. Kennedy expanded U.S. aid to the developing world to compete against communist influence there.

Obama added a subtle but clear suggestion that his own life story as the son of an African immigrant who had spent part of his childhood in the Muslim developing nation of Indonesia would give him added credibility as a messenger to the global public.

"It's time we had a president ... who can speak directly to the world, and send a message to all those men and women beyond our shores who long for lives of dignity and security that says `You matter to us. Your future is our future,'" Obama said.

Still, Obama offered assurance that he would not shrink from using military force to protect the United States.

Obama called for an expansion of U.S. ground forces, pledging an enlargement of the Army by 60,000 and of the Marines by 27,000.

Obama repeated his past support for a withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops in Iraq by March 31, 2008, leaving a limited number of American troops in Iraq to fight terrorist groups.

He said that he would double current foreign aid spending to $50 billion by 2012, which would be the final year of his first term if he is elected.

"A relatively small investment in these fragile states up front can be one of the most effective ways to prevent the terror and strife that is far more costly," Obama said.

He called for the U.S. to "lead by example" to combat global warming by capping and reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the economy.

Obama said he would stress diplomatic measures and economic sanctions but use military force "if necessary" to stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons and eliminate North Korea's nuclear program.

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