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News Analysis: Foreign policy under spotlight in U.S. presidential race
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08:55, February 29, 2008

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Various opinion polls have shown that U.S. voters in this year's presidential elections clearly place economic concerns ahead of foreign policy.

However, most key issues of the race are related to foreign policy, such as Iraq, national security and immigration, which in fact tie-in with the economy in many ways.

As the presidential contest becomes more intense, a number of foreign policy issues are now under spotlight.

The Feb. 26 debate featuring Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois in Cleveland, Ohio, covered a fair amount of foreign policy issues.

Iraq, Afghanistan, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Russia along with other foreign affairs topics accounted for about half of the debate.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is building his policy platform largely on national security, which he hopes to have an edge over his Democratic opponent in the general election.

When either of the trio, Clinton, Obama and McCain, takes office in January 2009, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism and the nuclear issues of Iran and the Korean Peninsula will be weighing heavy in the new president's in-tray.

Adding to that is the all-time low image of the United States around the world.

McCain has been touting his years of foreign policy experience as a reason to choose him over Clinton or Obama in November.

He voted for military force in Iraq and supported President George W. Bush when he vetoed the war spending bill that would have withdrawn most U.S. troops by March 2008.

McCain said he expects a smaller but long-term U.S. presence in Iraq similar to those in South Korea or Kuwait.

On the surface, the Democratic candidates are not that far apart on foreign policy.

Although Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq before joining the Senate and Clinton voted for it, both now favor a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces and the need for Iraqi forces to take over security.

Both Clinton and Obama would not rule out the use of force, even unilaterally, to protect U.S. national security interests.

Both support multilateral engagement and diplomacy with Iran.

In the Middle East, they both support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while maintaining a pro-Israel tone.

Both call for a redoubling of efforts in Afghanistan.

But their real differences surface in style and tone.

Citing eight years as first lady and two terms as a senator, Clinton has sought to portray herself as the strongest candidate on foreign policy, criticizing Obama for thin credentials.

Clinton has criticized Obama for saying he would attack al Qaida targets in Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government.

Last summer, Obama made headlines when he said, "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

During the Feb. 26 debate, Obama noted the Bush administration did exactly that recently when it launched an airstrike on a top al Qaida leader without telling the Pakistanis first.

On foreign policy, Obama has sought to turn Clinton's competition on experience into one about judgment, arguing Clinton "lacked the good judgment" to oppose the Iraq war from the beginning.

"Once we had driven the bus into the ditch, there were only so many ways we could get out," he said during Tuesday's debate in Ohio.

"The question is, 'Who's making the decision initially to drive the bus into the ditch?' "

One stark difference between the candidates is on talking with "American foes."

Obama has said he would meet with the leaders of those countries in the first year of his presidency, arguing "it's important for the United States not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies."

While Clinton herself has called for more diplomatic engagement with U.S. foes, she called Obama's approach "irresponsible" and "naive."

"It may sound good, but it doesn't meet the real-world test of foreign policy," Clinton added.

Meanwhile, for people living outside the United States, the desire to move beyond eight years of the Bush administration's foreign policy, has resulted in particular interest in this year's presidential race, analysts said.

As a result, the race has attracted an unprecedented level of interest overseas.

For example, Arab satellite networks are sending reporters to trail the candidates around the country.

Foreign diplomats have also traveled to primaries such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

Source: Xinhua

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