President Barack Obama burst into the national spotlight with his acclaimed speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He has remained a prominent figure since, elected to the Senate at the end of 2004, gaining a seat on the high-profile Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and becoming an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq. Obama's opponents faulted him for his lack of experience in Washington, however. Prior to his election to the Senate, Obama served as an Illinois state senator for eight years and a community organizer in Chicago before that. Obama says the United States needs to renew its global leadership position through skillful diplomacy, a revitalized military, and by confronting nuclear proliferation, which he calls "the most urgent threat to the security of America and the world." In June 2008, Obama claimed the Democratic nomination after clinching the number of delegates needed to win. In August 2008, he officially accepted that nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. He won the general election in November 2008, and was inaugurated in January 2009. Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is the first African-American president of the United States.
U.S. Policy toward Africa
President Obama, whose father was Kenyan, was particularly vocal in the Senate on U.S. Africa policy. He has been especially outspoken regarding policy toward Darfur, traveling to the region with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) in 2006. In May 2008, Obama cosigned a statement with fellow presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and John McCain condemning the Sudanese government as "chiefly responsible" for the violence in Darfur, and demanding that the Khartoum regime adhere to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Obama has called for a no-fly zone over Darfur. In 2005, Obama cosponsored the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. He says he has divested (AP) about $180,000 of his personal financial holdings from Sudan-related stock.
Obama has also been outspoken regarding U.S. policy toward Zimbabwe, saying in June 2008 the government of Robert Mugabe is "illegitimate and lacks any credibility." He said the United States should tighten sanctions on Zimbabwe. Obama also urged South Africa's ruling African National Congress party to call for diplomatic action to stop the repression in Zimbabwe.
With Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Obama cosponsored the March 2007 bill to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to bolster public health efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. That bill has not yet been voted on. Obama told Vanity Fair that as president, he plans to expand PEPFAR "by providing at least $1 billion a year in new money."
In February 2008, Obama called the power-sharing agreement reached between Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga "a vital step forward," but urged coalition members to "make an enduring commitment to democracy, cooperation and national unity."
Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, CEO of Millennium Villages, a project aimed at fighting poverty in Africa, was a national security adviser to Obama's campaign.
U.S. Policy toward India
Obama has said he will build "a close strategic partnership" with India. Because India and the United States have both experienced major terrorist attacks, "we have a shared interest in succeeding in the fight against al-Qaeda and its operational and ideological affiliates," Obama wrote in a February 2008 article in India Abroad, a newspaper on Indian affairs published in New York.
Obama voted to approve the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement in October 2008. He voted in favor of the United States-India Energy Security Cooperation Act of 2006. In September 2008, Obama praised the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for deciding to allow its members to cooperate with India on nuclear issues.
South Asians for Obama published a list of Obama's stances on issues of interest to the South Asian community in the United States.
Military Tribunals and Guantanamo Bay
President Obama says Guantanamo should be closed and habeas corpus (AP) should be restored for the detainees. He says the United States should have "developed a real military system of justice that would sort out the suspected terrorists from the accidentally accused."
In June 2008, Obama praised (NYT) a Supreme Court decision allowing Guantanamo prisoners to challenge their detention in civilian courts. He called the ruling "an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus."
In February 2008, Obama criticized the prosecution of six Guantanamo detainees charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks. He said the trials are "too important to be held in a flawed military commission system that has failed to convict anyone of a terrorist act since the 9/11 attacks and that has been embroiled in legal challenges" (SFChron). Instead, Obama said, the men should be tried in a U.S. criminal court or by a military court-martial.
Obama voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (PDF).
President Obama's response to the NSA spying controversy was mixed. On one hand, he opposed the nomination of former NSA chief Michael Hayden to the position of CIA director because of his role in the warrantless wiretapping program and said that he disapproved of Bush's avoidance of FISA oversight in the NSA eavesdropping efforts. On the other hand, Obama did not join in Sen. Feingold's efforts to censure Bush over the warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.
Obama long opposed retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated in warrantless wiretapping of Americans. "No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people," he said in January 2008. Still, in June 2008, Obama supported legislation (WashPost) providing telecommunications companies with legal immunity. "Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay," Obama said, explaining his support for the bill. Still, Obama pledged to "carefully monitor the program" as president.
Obama has said he will make the Director of National Intelligence into a position with a fixed term limit "to foster consistency and integrity" (WashPost).
President Obama has argued the troop surge in Iraq has caused the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate. He says the United States should redeploy troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. He has said he would send at least two more combat brigades to Afghanistan and will "use this commitment to seek greater contributions—with fewer restrictions—from NATO allies." He has also proposed an additional billion dollars in nonmilitary assistance per year, "with meaningful safeguards to prevent corruption and to make sure investments are made—not just in Kabul—but out in Afghanistan's provinces." Obama said in an October 2008 interview with TIME magazine that opportunities to negotiate with the Taliban should be "explored."
In general, Obama has been critical of the Bush administration's policies relating to the war on terror. In a July 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Obama called the Bush administration's response to 9/11 "conventional thinking of the past, largely viewing problems as state-based and principally amenable to military solutions." As a result of the actions taken under the auspices of the war on terror, Obama says, "the world has lost trust in our purposes and our principles." Obama says Iraq is not and "never was" the main front of the war on terror. Obama has called for a greater counterterrorism focus on Afghanistan and the tribal region of Pakistan.
Democracy Promotion in the Arab World
President Obama has said the United States benefits from "the expansion of democracy," and said democratic countries are "our best trading partners, our most valuable allies and the nations with which we share our deepest values." In a March 2008 Washington Post interview, Obama said the United States should work to advance democracy by setting an example and banning torture, extraordinary rendition and by closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
Obama has said he will "significantly increase" funding for the National Endowment for Democracy "and other nongovernmental organizations to support civic activists in repressive societies." He also said he plans to start a "Rapid Response Fund for young democracies and post-conflict societies that will provide foreign aid, debt relief, technical assistance and investment packages that show the people of newly hopeful countries that democracy and peace deliver, and the United States stands by them."
Obama favors democracy promotion as a principle of foreign policy (he introduced the DRC Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act in 2005). Still, he has generally not framed his rhetoric about the Middle East in terms of democracy promotion.
Obama cosponsored the ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2005, which sought to reinforce the U.S. commitment to promoting democracy around the world. That bill would have established "Regional Democracy Hubs" around the world meant to develop and implement strategies to help bring about democratic transitions in non-democratic countries. The bill never passed.
In the summer 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, Obama said democratic states are better equipped to fight terrorism, stop the spread of weapons, and deal with public health crises. To this end, Obama said as president he would increase foreign aid funding to $50 billion by 2012 and demand reform of corrupt governments. He also said he would "capitalize a $2 billion Global Education Fund" to ensure educated citizens that can contribute to the solidifying of democracy around the world.
Obama has been critical (AP) of President Bush's energy policy. "Saying that America is addicted to oil without following a real plan for energy independence is like admitting alcoholism and then skipping out on the twelve-step program," Obama said in 2006. In August 2008, Obama unveiled his "New Energy for America" plan, which includes measures to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and to provide "short-term relief to American families facing pain at the pump" due to high gas prices. According to the plan, Obama would impose a windfall profits tax on oil companies and use the proceeds to provide a $1,000 tax rebate for married couples and a $500 tax rebate for individuals. Those rebates would "offset the entire increase in gas prices for a working family over the next four months; or pay for the entire increase in winter heating bills for a typical family in a cold‐weather state," Obama said.
Obama also said in August 2008 that he supports the sale of 70 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "for less expensive crude, which in the past has lowered gas prices within two weeks." This statement signaled a shift of position for Obama, who in July 2008 said he did not believe the United States should use that reserve supply.
Obama says he will attempt to reduce oil consumption by 7.64 million barrels a day by 2025 from current levels. He also says he would invest $150 billion over 10 years (PDF) toward new alternative energy technology, and to "accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial scale renewable energy, invest in low emissions coal plants, and begin transition to a new digital electricity grid."
Obama has said Americans will have to change their behavior (AFP) to reduce energy consumption. "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times...and then just expect that other countries are going to say okay," Obama said at a May 2008 campaign rally in Oregon.
Obama has also said that he supports tax breaks and loan guarantees for users of clean energy sources like ethanol and blended fuel E85. More controversially, Obama, whose home state of Illinois has a large coal-mining industry, supported coal-to-liquid (CTL) fuel legislation under consideration in Congress, even though some experts say CTLs might cause even more carbon dioxide pollution than gasoline. He explained his support for CTLs, saying they "will create jobs and lessen our dependence on foreign oil." Obama broke ranks from many of his fellow Democratic senators voting for the 2005 Energy Policy Act. He believes that a "strong carbon cap" (Grist) is better than a freeze on development on a particular type of energy.
At a debate in January 2008, Obama said he would support more nuclear power if it could be made cost-efficient and safe, and the waste stored effectively. He noted, if that can be done, "then we should pursue it because what we don't want is to produce more greenhouse gases."
In June 2008, Obama said he would close the "Enron loophole," a legislative provision pushed through Congress by Enron lobbyists in 2002 that Obama says allows oil speculators to escape federal regulation and gouge fuel prices. Obama said that loophole prevents the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from effectively overseeing the oil futures market and investigating "cases where excessive speculation may be driving up oil prices."
Obama has also said he would implement a windfall profits tax on oil companies. Revenue from that tax would be invested in "mechanisms to reduce the burden of rising prices, such as expanding resources for the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, increasing federal support for state and local-level efforts to relieve the burden of rising energy prices on low and moderate-income families, and helping permanently expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps families pay their heating and cooling bills," the Obama campaign said in June 2008.
Obama has criticized proposals for a gas-tax holiday, which he says would "take $3 billion a month out of the Highway Trust Fund and hand it over effectively to our oil companies." Obama also opposes domestic oil exploration (CNN), arguing that it will not immediately lower gas prices for American consumers. Still, in August 2008, Obama said he might be willing to support some offshore drilling as part of a broader compromise on energy policy. "My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices," Obama said. "If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage—I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done."
Obama co-authored the Fuel Economy Reform Act with Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), among other senators. The act, which did not reach a vote, would have made all automobiles manufactured for 2012 meet the fuel economy standard of 27.5 miles per gallon. He did not attend the vote on the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007. That bill passed.
Obama's energy plan can be viewed here.
President Obama has taken a strongly pro-Israel tone in addressing the conflict. In a May 2008 interview with the Atlantic, Obama said the concept of a Jewish state is "fundamentally just," and his commitment to Israeli security is "non-negotiable." In a speech before AIPAC in March 2007, Obama said the United States must "strengthen the hands of Palestinian moderates" and isolate Hamas. Haaretz U.S. correspondent Shmuel Rosner said that before AIPAC, Obama "sounded as strong as [Hillary] Clinton, as supportive as [President George] Bush, as friendly as [Rudy] Giuliani."
In April 2008, Barack Obama's campaign said he disapproved (ABC News) of former President Jimmy Carter's decision to meet with Hamas officials. Obama "does not support negotiations with Hamas until they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist and abide by past agreements," Obama's campaign said. Despite his pledge to hold diplomatic talks with U.S. adversaries without preconditions, Obama called Carter's meeting with Hamas leaders "a bad idea." (Reuters) He has said his position on Hamas is "indistinguishable from the position of Hillary Clinton or John McCain." In May 2008, Obama also said he would not negotiate with Hezbollah. His campaign has indicated that Obama would negotiate directly with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Obama has criticized Carter's characterization of Israel as an apartheid state. "There's no doubt that Israel and the Palestinians have tough issues to work out to get to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, but injecting a term like apartheid into the discussion doesn't advance that goal. It's emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it's not what I believe," said Obama.
Obama has said Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories are "not helpful."
In May 2008, Obama Middle East adviser Daniel Kurtzer said the issue of Jerusalem must be included in any "serious" peace talks (Haaretz).
Obama cosponsored the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 and has called on the Palestinian leadership to "recognize Israel, to renounce violence, and to get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region."
Obama says he will "insist on fully funding military assistance to Israel" and continue to cooperate with Israel on the development of the Arrow missile defense system.
North Korea Policy
President Obama advocates for developing an "international coalition" to handle nuclear North Korea, calls the Six-Party Talks "ad hoc," and says he supports "sustained, direct, and aggressive diplomacy." In a September 2008 presidential debate, Obama said a lack of diplomatic engagement with North Korea led the country to significantly increase its nuclear capacity, and said the Bush administration's eventual reengagement with the regime led to "some progress."
Within weeks of Pyongyang's October 2006 nuclear test, Obama appeared on Meet the Press and said the United States had no leverage over North Korea because of Washington's refusal to hold bilateral negotiations. He also clarified a passage from his book Audacity of Hope (in which he posed the question "Why invade Iraq and not North Korea or Burma?") and said he did not consider invading the communist country an option to resolving the nuclear issue.
In May 2005, Obama named North Korea as one of the "biggest proliferation challenges we currently face." Obama has called for the strengthening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that countries like North Korea "that break the rules will automatically face strong international sanctions."
Obama said in September 2008 he believes the United States needs a missile defense system in part because of the nuclear threat North Korea poses.
President Obama has broken with the status quo on U.S. policy toward Cuba, calling for travel and remittance restrictions on Cuban-Americans to be lifted. "There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans," Obama said in a May 2008 speech in Miami, explaining why he would "immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances to the island."
In February 2008, Obama called Fidel Castro's resignation "the end of a dark era in Cuba's history," and called for a democratic transition there. He urged the "prompt release of all political prisoners" in Cuba, and said the United States should prepare to "begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades." Still, in May 2008 Obama said he would not lift the embargo until the Cuban government takes steps to "democratize the island."
In an August 2007 op-ed in the Miami Herald, Obama also said he will engage in bilateral talks with Cuba to send the message that the United States is willing to normalize relations with Cuba upon evidence of a democratic opening. Obama has also said under his administration, the United States would hold a "series of meetings with low-level diplomats," and that over time Obama himself would be "willing to meet and talk very directly about what we expect from the Cuban regime."
He has voted twice to cut off TV Marti funding (WashPost).
U.S. Policy toward China
President Obama has expressed interest in cooperation with China, although he sees the country as a major competitor to the United States. At the April 2007 debate among Democratic candidates, Obama said China is "neither our enemy nor our friend. They're competitors. But we have to make sure that we have enough military-to-military contact and forge enough of a relationship with them that we can stabilize the region."
In an April 2007 speech before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Obama said he will "forge a more effective regional framework in Asia," building on "our strong bilateral relations and informal arrangements like the Six-Party Talks" on North Korea.
Obama has noted the problems with China's revaluation of the yuan. He has said that although the United States should maintain a cooperative relationship with China, it should "never hesitate to be clear and consistent with China where we disagree—whether on protection of intellectual property rights, the manipulation of its currency, human rights, or the right stance on Sudan and Iran."
In March 2008, Obama condemned China's crackdown on protests by Tibetan Buddhist monks. He called on China to respect Tibet's religion and culture, and said China should grant Tibet "genuine and meaningful autonomy." Obama also said the Dalai Lama should be invited to visit China, "as part of a process leading to his return." Obama sent a letter in March 2008 calling on President Bush to urge China to "make significant progress in resolving the Tibet issue." Obama said Bush should press Chinese President Hu Jintao to negotiate with the Dalai Lama about his return to Tibet, to guarantee religious freedom for Tibetans, and to grant Tibet "genuine autonomy." In April 2008, Obama said President Bush should keep the option of boycotting the opening ceremony of the Olympics "firmly on the table." He said President Bush should decide to attend based on whether China takes "steps to help stop the genocide in Darfur and to respect the dignity, security, and human rights of the Tibetan people."
Obama has expressed support for the "one China" policy. In March 2008, Obama congratulated Taiwanese President-elect Ma Ying-jeou on his electoral victory, and said the government of China should respond to the election "in a positive, constructive, and forward-leaning way." He also said China should "demonstrate to the people of Taiwan that the practical and non-confrontational approach that President-elect Ma promises to take toward the Mainland will be met with good faith and progress." He called on China to build confidence with Taiwan by reducing its military deployment in southeast China, and to "allow Taiwan greater international space" in the World Health Organization.
Former Ambassador Jeffrey Bader, the Clinton administration's National Security Council Asia specialist, is a national security adviser to Obama's campaign. Bader is now the head of Brookings's John L. Thornton China center.
Obama has called for U.S. military expansion and restructuring. In an April 2007 speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Obama advocated the expansion of the military to include an additional sixty-five thousand army soldiers and twenty-seven thousand marines. He also called for an increase in the number of Arabic speakers in the military.
In Obama's 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, he wrote, "It's time we acknowledge that a defense budget and force structure built principally around the prospect of World War III makes little strategic sense."
As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama introduced the Cooperative Proliferation Detection, Interdiction Assistance, and Conventional Threat Reduction Act of 2006. That act, which was incorporated into the Department of State Authorities Act of 2006 and signed into law, allows for the destruction of surplus and unsecured weapons, which Obama said "make attractive targets for terrorists."
In October 2007, Obama said private security contractors like Blackwater USA should not be "rogue militia, roaming the country shooting without justification and without consequences." He called for increased accountability for contractors and wrote in an Chicago Sun-Times op-ed that U.S. "national interests are threatened when these companies act on the country's behalf without having to answer to Americans. Instead of winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis, we've made them angry and possibly fueled support for the counterinsurgency that is keeping us stuck in Iraq."
In May 2008, Obama voted in favor of an amendment to expand the veterans' benefits program (WashPost). That bill, which will increase education benefits for soldiers who served in Iraq, passed. Obama has also called for the expansion of military health coverage to include "proven treatment" for soldiers suffering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In an August 2008 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Obama expressed concern that "one of the most widely accepted and critical rehabilitative treatments for this injury, known as cognitive rehabilitation therapy, is excluded by the military's TRICARE health insurance program." Obama praised the Senate in September 2008 for passing the Defense Authorization Bill, which he said would ensure that U.S. "service members and veterans have access to the health care and support they need whether in combat or at home." But Obama criticized Republicans for blocking a measure he cosponsored to provide suicide prevention programs throughout the military.
As Obama was elected to the Senate in 2004, he does not have a voting record on military operations in the Gulf War, Kosovo, or in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He has been critical of the war in Iraq, but was not yet in office at the time that the 2002 Iraq War resolution was passed.
President Obama believes the United States needs to move beyond Iraq and "refocus our attention on the broader Middle East," he wrote in an essay in Foreign Affairs. One of the few presidential candidates who opposed the war (PDF) from the start, he says there is "no military solution" to the situation in Iraq. He says ending the war in Iraq will also help assuage the U.S. financial crisis. "We are currently spending $10 billion a month in Iraq when they have a $79 billion surplus. It seems to me that if we're going to be strong at home as well as strong abroad, that we have to look at bringing that war to a close," he said in a September 2008 presidential debate.
In September 2007, Obama released his plan to "responsibly end the war in Iraq," calling for a complete redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2009, starting immediately. He also advocates a UN-led Iraqi constitutional convention in order to forge national reconciliation and to reach compromises on federalism, oil revenue sharing, and "de-Ba'athification." Obama says he will establish an "international working group" to solve the Iraqi refugee crisis.
In January 2007, Obama proposed the Iraq War De-Escalation Act, which would have reversed the troop surge and redeployed U.S. troops to Afghanistan and other locations in phases. He favors more funds for U.S. military equipment like night-vision goggles and reinforced Humvees, though his recent refusal to sign a war funding bill came under criticism from presidential aspirant John McCain (R-AZ), who, among other things, accused the senator of misspelling "flak jacket." Under Obama's plan, there may be a residual troop presence (NYT) in Iraq for security and training purposes. His bill has not yet reached a vote.
Obama opposed Defense Secretary Robert Gates' plan to "pause" U.S. troop withdrawal (CNN) from Iraq in July 2008. In February 2008, Obama said he "strongly" disagreed with Gates' proposal, and warned against waging "war without end in Iraq while ignoring mounting costs to our troops and their families, our security and our economy."
Obama opposes the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases (USA Today) in Iraq.
President Obama generally supports free trade policies, though he has expressed concern about free trade agreements that do not include labor and environmental protections. In a February 2008 speech at the General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, Obama said he "will not sign another trade agreement unless it has protections for our environment and protections for American workers." In June 2008, Obama blamed a jump in the U.S. trade deficit on "policies that reflect unprecedented fiscal irresponsibility and borrowing from abroad" and promised to adopt a trade policy that "serves the interests not just of multinational corporations but of America's hardworking families."
Obama has called NAFTA a "bad" trade deal. In an August 2007 Democratic debate, Obama said he would meet with the Canadian and Mexican heads of state to "try to amend NAFTA," saying the agreement "should reflect the principle that our trade should not just be good for Wall Street, but should also be good for Main Street."
In a February 2008 Democratic debate, Obama said he would "make sure that we renegotiate" NAFTA and use "the hammer of a potential opt-out" of NAFTA as leverage to ensure enforceable labor and environmental protections. Still, in February 2008, Obama said he does not think "it's realistic for us to repeal NAFTA," because that could lead to "more job loss...than job gains" (ABC).
Obama voted to approve the 2006 FTA with Oman. He opposed CAFTA, however, explaining in 2005, "It does less to protect labor than previous trade agreements, and does little to address enforcement of basic environmental standards in the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic." Obama did not vote on the 2007 Peru FTA, but expressed support for the deal (AP).
In a March 2008 speech, Obama said he would oppose a free trade agreement with Columbia, because "the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements." Obama has also criticized the U.S.-South Korea FTA, which he said is "bad for American workers." The deal "would give Korean exports essentially unfettered access to the U.S. market and would eliminate our best opportunity for obtaining genuinely reciprocal market access in one of the world's largest economies," Obama wrote in May 2008.
Obama has criticized China for manipulating its currency, and in June 2007 urged Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to take action against China. "At least partially as a result of the Administration's failure to address Chinese currency manipulation, the U.S. imported more than $232 billion in goods from China than we sold to it last year," he wrote.
In March 2008, Obama praised the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Reform Act, which requires that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the CPSC's monitoring of goods imported to the United States, and make recommendations to improve safety and regulation. "We must ensure that the CPSC has every tool available to effectively regulate imported products in today's global marketplace and protect our most vulnerable citizens from dangerous products," Obama said.
President Obama says the United States is "safer in many ways" since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "Obviously, we've poured billions of dollars into airport security. We have done some work in terms of securing potential targets, but we still have a long way to go," Obama said in a September 2008 presidential debate. He said the United States still needs to tighten security on the transportation system, at ports and at chemical sites. Obama, who sits on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, has been a critic of how federal homeland security funding has been handled. He has also been critical of the Patriot Act, but he voted to adopt a conference report to reauthorize it in 2006.
Obama was critical of the government's "passive indifference" toward the crisis Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005. Obama says he will ensure that FEMA funding and resources "reach the communities that need it." He says he will boost the federal rebuilding coordinator to report directly to him "so that rebuilding remains a national priority." He plans to restore the Gulf Coast region's wetlands (PDF) and says he will "immediately" close the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet" to prevent floodwater from funneling into New Orleans.
Obama cosponsored the SAFE Act of 2005, which never reached a vote.
In February 2007, Obama cosponsored the Risk-Based Homeland Security Grants Act.
President Obama has expressed support for "opening dialogue" with Iran, in part to ask for its assistance in "playing a more constructive role in Iraq." He says the war in Iraq has strengthened Iran's influence in the region. He has also said Iran's nuclear ambitions represent a "serious threat to the United States, to our ally Israel and to international security." A nuclear Iran would be "a game changer," he said in a September 2008 presidential debate. "Not only would it threaten Israel, a country that is our stalwart ally, but it would also create an environment in which you could set off an arms race in this Middle East."
Obama said in a March 2007 speech before AIPAC that he supports "tough sanctions" on Iran to compel it to stop its uranium enrichment program. In the same speech, he said that he "does not believe that the use of military force towards Iran should be ruled out (Chicago Sun-Times). Still, in an April 2007 presidential debate, Obama said, "I think it would be a profound mistake (NYT) for us to initiate a war with Iran." Obama hardened his position on this point following the NIE release. During a debate in Iowa in December 2007, Obama accused President Bush of not letting "facts get in the way of his ideology" in dealing with Iran, and said the Bush administration's saber-rattling and threats of war "should have never started" (NPR).
Obama has repeatedly said he will engage Iran in "tough, direct presidential diplomacy" without preconditions. "I reserve the right, as president of the United States to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it's going to keep America safe," he said in September 2008. In a February 2008 Democratic debate, Obama said it is "important for the United States not just to talk to its friends but also to talk to its enemies," including Iran. This would not necessarily mean direct talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who Obama says "is not the most powerful person in Iran" and therefore "may not be the right person to talk to." Obama has also said the United States should consider offering the incentive of World Trade Organization membership for Iran if it abandons its nuclear program.
In March 2008, Obama praised the UN Security Council's resolution to up pressure on Iran for its nuclear program. Still, Obama said, the resolution "represents a lowest common denominator because Russia and China did not agree to tougher sanctions."
In May 2007, Obama sponsored the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which would authorize state and local governments to divest from Iran's petroleum sector, protecting fund managers who divest from lawsuits. That bill has not reached a vote.
Obama did not vote on the September 2007 legislation labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, but he criticized the bill and said he would have voted against it. Still, in a September 2008 presidential debate, Obama said he does believe the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is a terrorist organization.
U.S. Policy toward Russia
President Obama said in April 2007 that Russia is "neither our enemy nor close ally," and said the United States "shouldn't shy away from pushing for more democracy, transparency, and accountability" there. In a September 2008 presidential debate, Obama said, "our entire Russian approach has to be evaluated, because a resurgent and very aggressive Russia is a threat to the peace and stability of the region." He called Russia's August 2008 actions toward Georgia "unacceptable" and "unwarranted."
Obama called Russia's April 2008 move to seek closer ties with Georgian the secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia "deeply troubling and contrary to Russia's obligations as a permanent member of the UN Security Council." He condemned Russian attacks on Georgia in August 2008, calling them a "violation of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity." He called for an immediate cease-fire and urged both sides to allow humanitarian assistance to reach civilians. Obama said diplomats from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations should "become directly involved in mediating this military conflict and beginning a process to resolve the political disputes over the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia." He also called for an international peacekeeping force in those territories.
In September 2008, Obama praised the Bush administration for pledging $1 billion in humanitarian and economic aid for Georgia. The same week, Obama said he welcomed news that the European Union would postpone talks on a new EU-Russia partnership, and applauded the EU's decision to send civilians to Georgia to monitor the ceasefire agreement.
If Russia does not abide by the ceasefire agreement between Russia and Georgia, Obama warned, "[t]hey will imperil the Civil Nuclear Agreement, and Russia's standing in the international community - including the NATO-Russia Council, and Russia's desire to participate in organizations like the WTO and the OECD."
Obama has focused much of his discussion of Russia on diminishing the possibility of nuclear weapons use. In a July 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Obama said the United States and Russia should collaborate to "update and scale back our dangerously outdated Cold War nuclear postures and de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons." In an October 2007 speech in Chicago, Obama said if elected he would work to "take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert, and to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material." He said he would seek a "global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons" and an expansion of "the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles."
In 2005, Obama traveled with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) to nuclear and biological weapons destruction sites in Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan. Obama and Lugar then introduced legislation to eliminate nuclear stockpiles throughout the former Soviet Union. That law was enacted in 2007.
Obama has said he supports a U.S. missile defense system in Europe, but has some reservations. His campaign website says he supports national missile defense, but he will "ensure that it is developed in a way that is pragmatic and cost-effective; and, most importantly, does not divert resources from other national security priorities until we are positive the technology will protect the American public." Still, he expressed hesitancy about the Bush plan. "We need to make sure any missile defense system would be effective before deployment," he said in a July 2007 statement. Obama criticized the Bush administration for having "exaggerated missile defense capabilities and rushed deployments for political purposes," and for doing "a poor job of consulting its NATO allies about the deployment of a missile defense system that has major implications for all of them."
In a September 2008 presidential debate, Obama said the United States needs missile defense, "because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons," but stressed the need to also increase spending on nuclear nonproliferation.
Obama views climate change as an "epochal, man-made threat to the planet" (Foreign Affairs) and vows to lead an international coalition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Obama has said he will try to ensure "that our nation's environmental laws and policies balance America's need for a healthy, sustainable environment with economic growth."
Obama has called for a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions. He has said that if he is elected he would invest $150 billion over ten years to advance clean energy technology. He has also said he would doubly increase fuel economy standards within 18 years by providing tax credits and loan guarantees for U.S. auto plants and parts manufacturers for building more fuel efficient cars.
Obama cosponsored the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, which would establish a "Climate Change Credit Corporation" to manage tradeable allowances and stimulate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. That bill has not yet been voted on. With Hillary Clinton, Obama also signed on as a cosponsor of the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act in 2007. Obama missed the June 2008 vote on the Climate Security Act of 2008, but called the legislation "critical and long overdue." Still, he said, the bill could be improved. "We must ensure that more middle-class families reap more of the financial benefits created by this bill," he said in a statement. "And we must direct greater resources to the regions of the country that will bear the brunt of this critical transition to a clean energy economy."
Obama's proposals for climate change can be viewed here.
President Obama, the son of a Kenyan immigrant, favors an immigration reform plan that allows illegal immigrants "who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, not violate the law, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens," according to his campaign's immigration fact sheet. He also says the United States should increase the number of Customs and Border Protection personnel, although he has not indicated how many he would add.
Obama, whose Illinois constituents include a high percentage of Mexican immigrants, voted against the English as a National Language Amendment in 2006. Obama proposed three amendments that were included in the Senate Immigration Reform Bill last year, including one that mandates that jobs be offered to American workers at a "prevailing wage" before they are offered to guest workers. Another of these amendments makes it a requirement that employers are able to prove that their workers are all legally permitted to work in the United States. His third amendment grants the FBI $3 million a year to improve efficiency for background checks on immigrants applying for citizenship. Obama has also called for sweeping amnesty for illegal immigrants. However, he voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
Obama opposed an amendment to the Senate immigration reform bill of June 2007 that would prevent immigrants with a criminal record from gaining legal status.
Obama supports granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, and has called it a "public safety concern."
President Obama has repeatedly said that the United Nations should play a key role in managing crises like Darfur. Obama has also said he wants the United Nations to help bring about peace in Iraq, and says as president he will call on the United Nations to convene a constitutional convention "which would not adjourn until Iraq's leaders reach a new accord on reconciliation." He says he may work with the United Nations to create an independent war crimes commission or special investigator to investigate war crimes in Iraq.
As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Obama voted against the 2005 nomination of John Bolton as UN ambassador. His comments during those hearings provide a sense of his stance on the United Nations, including the need for reform: "Countries such as Zimbabwe and Burma, and others that do not want to see reform take place at the UN, are going to be able to dismiss our efforts at reform by saying: Mr. Bolton is a UN basher, someone who is ideologically opposed to the existence of the UN—thereby using Mr. Bolton's own words and lack of credibility as a shield to prevent the very reforms that need to take place."
Obama introduced the Global Poverty Act of 2007, which would require the president to put the United States on a path toward meeting the Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half the number of people worldwide living on less than one dollar per day. That bill has not reached a vote in Senate.
U.S. Policy toward Pakistan
Pakistan first achieved notoriety in the presidential campaign in summer 2007 when Obama said he believed the United States should hunt al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President [Pervez] Musharraf will not act, we will," he said at the time. Obama says the "growing sanctuary" for al-Qaeda in Pakistan is a result of failed military strategy in Iraq.
The United States needs a policy that "compels Pakistani action against terrorists who threaten our common security and are using the FATA and the Northwest Territories of Pakistan as a safe haven," Obama said in a July 2008 speech. The same week, in an interview with NBC's Meet the Press, Obama said too much U.S. financial assistance to Pakistan has been military aid, and "not enough of it has been in the form of building schools and building infrastructure in the country to help develop and give opportunity to the Pakistani people."
Obama congratulated Asif Ali Zardari on his election to Pakistan's presidency in September 2008, and praised Zardari for pledging to "return this office to its traditional stature, and return to Parliament the powers unconstitutionally appropriated to the presidency." He also said he was pleased with the reinstatement of several deposed judges, a move which he called "an important step towards the restoration of a truly independent judiciary."
In November 2007, Obama cosponsored a resolution condemning Musharraf's imposition of a state of emergency, and calling for an investigation into a prior assassination attempt on opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
President Obama has said the United States should seek "a world in which there are no nuclear weapons." But he said in an October 2007 speech he does not believe the United States should pursue unilateral nuclear disarmament. "As long as nuclear weapons exist, we'll retain a strong nuclear deterrent," he said. If elected, he says he will seek "a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons," as well as an expansion of the U.S.-Russian intermediate-range missile ban. He also says he will "strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty so that nations that don't comply will automatically face strong international sanctions."
Obama says if elected he will make ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty a priority. Though he says the United States should "lead the international effort to deemphasize the role of nuclear weapons around the world," he has stopped short of opposing the building of a new Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). Instead, he said he is against (PDF) a "premature" decision to build an RRW.
In August 2005, Obama traveled with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) to nuclear and biological weapons destruction facilities in the former Soviet Union, where they urged the destruction of conventional weapons stockpiles. With Lugar, Obama introduced the Cooperative Proliferation Detection, Interdiction Assistance, and Conventional Threat Reduction Act, which passed as part of the Department of State Authorities Act of 2006.
President Obama voted in favor of the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act in October 2008, but, he said, "The fact that we are even here voting on a plan to rescue our economy from the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street and Washington is an outrage."
Upon the House bill's initial failure, Obama urged a return to the negotiating table, and suggested the addition to the bill of a measure that increased the limit on federal deposit insurance from $100,000 to $250,000 (Reuters).
Obama says he supports the Treasury Department's plan to inject money directly into struggling banks, but in October 2008 said the plan must be "implemented in a way that helps homeowners and does not enrich Wall Street CEOs at the taxpayers' expense." He has called for a ninety-day moratorium on home foreclosures.
Following the collapse of Bear Stearns in late March, Obama introduced a six-point plan (PDF) to improve government regulation of financial institutions. The Obama plan would provide the Federal Reserve with authority over "any financial institution to which it may make credit available as a lender of last resort." At a minimum, Obama says, that oversight should apply to the liquidity and capital requirements of those institutions. Obama also advocates tighter capital, liquidity and disclosure requirements for all financial institutions, and says U.S. regulatory agencies should be streamlined to end competition and overlap. Obama proposes altering the financial oversight structure to regulate all institutions in the same way, saying a fragmented oversight framework "has failed to protect homeowners, and it is now clear that it made no sense for our financial system." He has also said the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should "crack down" on market manipulation. Finally, Obama's plan includes the creation of a financial market oversight commission which would "meet regularly and report to the president, the president's Financial Working Group and Congress on the state of our financial markets and the systemic risks that face them." Obama's plan does not mention any alterations to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (PDF), legislation designed to improve accountability in the financial industry.
Obama called the September 2008 government bailout of AIG "the final verdict on the failed economic philosophy" of the Bush administration, and called on the Federal Reserve to "ensure that the plan protects the families that count on insurance." He urged the Federal Reserve not to bail out AIG's shareholders or management. Top Obama campaign economic adviser Jason Furman told NPR that Obama would not be "second-guessing the Federal Reserve at a time like this." Furman said economic stimulus has a role to play in ending these major bailouts. The government needs to "prop up our economy as a whole with a fiscal stimulus," he said. "We need far more ambitious measures to deal with the root of this problem, which is in the housing sector."
Obama also sent a letter urging Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson not to allow outgoing CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to receive "inappropriate windfall payments." Days later, he praised Paulson for blocking those "golden parachutes."
Obama released an "Emergency Economic Plan" in August 2008 to cut taxes for 95 percent of working families, grant $25 billion in a "State Growth Fund" to prevent local cuts in health, education and housing assistance spending, and grant $25 billion in a "Jobs and Growth Fund" for infrastructure jobs.
President Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon met on August 4, 2015, to discuss several international initiatives that the United States is addressing with the UN, including climate change, humanitarian crises, political violence, and economic development.
President Barack Obama spoke at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa on July 28, 2015. He discussed the ten year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and additional reforms and other assistance the United States and African leaders work on to increase trade, investment, and growth on the continent. He also addressed the need for presidents to respect term limits and transfer power peacefully and for nations to provide equal treatment for women and girls.
President Obama spoke on a panel, Conversation on Poverty, at Georgetown University, on May 12, 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on April 28, 2015. This statement discusses U.S.-Japan relations after World War II, the U.S. rebalance to Asia, the Trans Pacific Partnership, and the update to the Guidelines for U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation. Prime Minister Abe also spoke to Congress.
U.S. President Barack Obama met with Cuban President Raul Castro at the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 11, 2015. In December 2014, President Obama announced changes to the U.S. policy toward Cuba, including removing Cuba from the U.S. State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
President Barack Obama gave these remarks on March 7, 2015, at an event commemorating the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. He discussed the history of civil rights protests, the passing of the Voting Rights Act, and progress and ongoing challenges in the fight for equal rights and opportunity in the United States.
President Obama spoke at the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford on February 13, 2015. He announced a new executive order for private and government sectors to better share information about cyber threats.
On January 26, 2015 at the U.S.-India Business Council Summit, President Obama lays out new U.S. initiatives to increase investment and trade in India, related to removing barriers to investment, technology transfer, and inclusive growth.
The State of the Union is a speech given annually by the president to Congress, in which the president outlines the current condition of the United States and national priorities for the coming year, based on the U.S. Constitution, Article Two, Section Three. President Obama has delivered his State of the Union Address speeches on January 27, 2010, January 25, 2011, January 24, 2012, February 12, 2013, January 28, 2014, and January 20, 2015.
President Barack Obama announced changes to the U.S. policy toward Cuba on December 17, 2014. Changes include reestablishing diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961, reviewing Cuba's designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism according to the U.S. State Department, and increasing travel, trade, and commerce between the countries. In a speech to the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States Summit in January 2015, Cuban President Raul Castro describes conditions he wants as the two countries reestablish relations. At the Summit of the Americas in April 2015, which Cuba attended for the first time, President Obama and President Castro began discussions on these policy changes.
President Barack Obama spoke on November 20, 2014, to explain executive actions he will take address reforms in the U.S. immigration system. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Legal Council, and Council of Economic Advisors released analysis and recommendations for these reforms.
President Obama and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma met on November 14, 2014, in Daw Suu's home. They answered questions about Burmese elections set to take place in 2015, press freedom, and expectations for democractic transition and rule of law and human rights in the country, particuarly concerning the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar.
U.S. President Obama and Chinese President Xi met on the sidelines of the 2014 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting on November 12, 2014. They discussed regional trade and security initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Asian Security Concept and the U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change. Questions from the press included China's impressions of the Obama Administration's "pivot" to Asia and human rights issues associated with the Hong Kong protests, Occupy Central. The fact sheet detailed additional agreements, including nuclear nonproliferation efforts, military-to-military confidence building measures, visa reform, and Ebola responses.
President Barack Obama spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2014. He discussed resolving conflict in Ukraine and fighting the threat of Ebola and outlined U.S. and global actions to combat the terrorist network Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
President Barack Obama spoke at the 2014 UN Climate Change Summit on September 23. He announced an initiative to integrate climate resilience planning and data into U.S. international development programs and a plan to reduce carbon emissions.
President Barack Obama spoke on September 23, 2014, about airstrikes in Syria, conducted by the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar, to target Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
President Barack Obama spoke on September 10, 2014, outlining U.S. actions to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and in Syria.
On September 3, 2014, speaking from Tallinn, Estonia, President Barack Obama pledged that NATO would defend its Baltic allies, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, as he called for a united stand against Russia's aggression and laid blame for escalating clashes in Ukraine on Moscow.
President Barack Obama held a press conference on August 9, 2014, to discuss U.S. airstrikes and delivery of humanitarian aid in Iraq. On August 11, 2014, President Obama provided an update on military operations in Iraq and the establishment of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.