Monday, April 23, 2007

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama said yesterday that the United States has let the world down under the leadership of President Bush, who he said has been a “disappointment” to other countries, as he proposed doubling the foreign-aid budget as a way of recapturing global leadership.

“This president may occupy the White House, but for the last six years, the position of leader of the Free World has remained open,” Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, said in an address to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs about the U.S. international role.

The next two weeks feature several candidates making major foreign-policy addresses, Republican Sen. John McCain’s kicking off his official presidential campaign and the first debates of the primary season — in South Carolina for the Democrats and in California for the Republicans.

Getting out ahead of the crowd, Mr. Obama called for boosting the size of the U.S. Army and Marines, training more troops in language skills and expanding efforts to contain the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And he called for doubling U.S. foreign assistance spending by 2012 — a move that he said would mean $50 billion a year — noting that doing so would help meet the goal set by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

While acknowledging that many voters think foreign aid is a waste of taxpayer money, Mr. Obama said he has seen signs that small investments can make a difference in steering people from terrorism.

“In this way, $50 billion a year in foreign aid — which is less than one-half of 1 percent of our GDP — doesn’t sound as costly when you consider that last year, the Pentagon spent nearly double that amount in Iraq alone,” he said in a speech postponed from last week because of the shootings at Virginia Tech.

With just two years in a national office under his belt and national security a top issue for voters, Mr. Obama faces the challenge of having to burnish his foreign-policy credentials.

Yesterday, he stressed the international trips he has taken — naming Ukraine, Kenya, the Darfur region of Sudan and the Middle East — and the contacts he has made.

Meanwhile, the most senior Republican presidential candidate, Mr. McCain, called for energy independence as a way to improve U.S. security. In the third and final policy speech before he officially kicks of his presidential campaign later this week, he tried to establish environmentalism as a conservative value that is consistent with free-market solutions.

“We need to dispel the image of conservation that entails shivering in cold rooms, reading by candlelight, and lower productivity,” Mr. McCain said.

He repeated his call for a program to curb global warming by mandating caps on greenhouse emissions, then allowing companies to trade emissions credits. He also repeated his opposition to subsidies that prevent importation of alternative fuels such as ethanol from Brazilian sugar.

Mr. McCain chided those who have stood in the way of building more nuclear-power plants as beholden to “the fears of 30 years ago,” pointing out that nuclear power has been successful for the French.

“Are France’s scientists and entrepreneurs more capable than we are?” he said. “I know my country well enough to know otherwise.”

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