SAN ANTONIO — Top military and foreign policy advisers for Sen. Barack Obama on Sunday pointed to Obama’s 2006 Africa trip as a significant foreign policy achievement. I covered his outreach to the leaders of South Africa, Kenya and Chad. It’s worth a reprise in the context of Obama’s presidential campaign.
With Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton running a stark ad in Texas claiming she is better prepared to handle a foreign policy crisis than Obama — who better to answer that 3 a.m. call? — Obama foreign policy adviser Susan Rice — a former assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration — on a conference call with reporters downgraded Clinton’s resume and extensive foreign travels.
While Obama was asking about Clinton’s “precise foreign policy experience” on Sunday in Ohio, I’d rather focus on Obama since he is positioned to win the Democratic nomination — Clinton needs landslides Tuesday in Ohio and Texas to catch up on the delegate count.
Rice said Obama’s achievements — other than legislative initiatives — include his willingness to confront the leaders of South Africa and Kenya about problems that were devastating their nations.
On the same call, retired Air Force Gen. Scott Gration, a top Obama military adviser who was glued to Obama’s side during the African trip — highlighted Obama’s Nairobi speech where he deplored Kenya’s tribalism and corruption — a timely reminder, given the violence after Kenya’s recent disputed election.
Obama left Washington on Aug. 18, 2006, to fly to Cape Town on an official congressional visit that would end Sept. 3 in Chad. What did he do?
Soon after arriving, Obama publicly criticized the South African government as being in “denial” for advocating nutritional treatments over medical alternatives to treat HIV/AIDS.
Obama slapped South African President Thabo Mbeki a day before he hoped to meet with him — and the meeting never took place.
In Kenya, the land of his father, Obama was treated as a head of state, a Kenyan despite being an American and, even then, a potential presidential candidate. He urged Kenyans to move past their deeply rooted tribalism — Obama’s father was a Luo — to form a new sort of Kenyan identity. Obama very publicly criticized the administration of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki for not rooting out corruption.
There was no way Kibaki could deny the wildly popular Obama a meeting, even if he wanted to. Obama raised concerns about Kenya’s lack of government transparency. Obama also appeared with opposition leader Raila Odinga — a Luo — who was running for president.
Violence erupted in Kenya in January after Kibaki and Odinga contested the election findings. Obama appealed for a negotiated settlement in a radio address broadcast in Kenya and has reached out to the major players.
After the Sudanese government stalled granting visas, Obama decided to travel instead to Chad to visit a refugee camp populated by people from the Darfur region of Sudan. Obama had a brief meeting with Chad President Idriss Deby Itno to talk about getting a U.N. force into Sudan. It never happened.