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Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the U.S.,
Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the U.S., has at last set out the main principles of his foreign policy.

In fact, these principles have been pieced together from what Obama has said before, but now they have been presented in a single speech and in a single block. It had to be done so that America's partners would know what to expect from a "new White House" (they know what to expect from the Republican candidate, John McCain, by simply looking at George Bush). Next week (July 21-27) the Illinois senator will present these theses to Europe and the Middle East. His trip will take him first to Iraq and Afghanistan, then to Israel and Jordan and then to Berlin, London, Paris and Rome.

Obama identified five goals of his presidency. In a nutshell, he plans to: end the war in Iraq; bring to a victorious end the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban; wean the U.S. off its dependence on (foreign supplies of) oil; make sure nuclear weapons and materials do not fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue states; and mend fences with U.S. allies.

"As President, I will pursue a tough, smart and principled national security strategy - one that recognizes that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Tokyo and London, in Beijing and Berlin."

It is a program to which any U.S. president from Reagan to Bush could have prescribed because, after all, nobody has said the war in Iraq should not end sooner or later while all the other goals are simply noble. As an aside, the 46-year-old senator delivered his speech at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington (if old Ron could hear him, especially the part about the "U.S. interests" all over the world, he would have been pleased no end).

The largest chunk of Obama's speech was devoted to Iraq, and not only because it is the biggest external worry for America. At the end of the day, the highlight of Obama's trip will be his stop in Baghdad where he will discuss the "Iraq policy" with the commander of the American forces, General David Patraeus.

Patraeus is not just another four-star general. Just last week Congress appointed him chief of U.S. Central Command (an area of responsibility including Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia). In other words, he is in charge of America's "military arm" in the most troubled parts of the world. Petraeus is extremely popular with the troops and, after recent successes in Iraq, with most Americans. Many tip him to repeat Eisenhower's career. Such generals should be taken seriously.

The general is not an advocate of a "premature" withdrawal of troops from Iraq and his reaction to Obama's position on Iraq and his comments will go a long way to determine for whom America will vote come November. That is why Obama was studiedly careful in his speech when describing the curtailment of the military presence in Iraq. He said he would make "tactical adjustments" according to advice from military commanders and that an unspecified "residual force" would remain. In short, Obama has not backtracked on "troop withdrawal," but is ready to take the advice of the military command. That already is a shift of stance.

He intends to move the "central front of the war against terror" from Iraq to Afghanistan and redeploy combat forces from Iraq in the next 16 months. A residual force will remain in Iraq to protect the diplomats, guard the embassies and for various "other purposes." Several U.S. brigades will be moved to Afghanistan to pursue and complete the war against al-Qaeda more vigorously.

On Russia, he was as declarative as a routine State Department press release. True, he chaffed his opponent, John McCain, for wanting to kick Russia out of the G8. But that was a McCain statement made during the mid-term elections. Mid-term elections in America are a far cry from national elections.

Every four years all U.S. presidential candidates undergo a strange metamorphosis. After winning the primaries they change shade, if not color. The reason is simple: in the primaries their aim is to win the votes of party activists. Among the Democrats most activists lean toward leftist liberalism, and among Republicans, toward hard-line conservatism. But after winning the interim race they have to fight for the votes of all Americans. So the Democrats and the Republicans start moving from "the fringes" to the center. They tweak and modify their positions, including foreign policy, and naturally the gap between them narrows. Obama is adjusting his stance as part of this quiet metamorphosis.

Ironically, in trying to predict what Barack Obama will bring to the White House (if he gets there) many make the same mistake as the West makes in trying to predict Dmitry Medvedev's foreign policy: it assumes that it should be dramatically different. Obama's position is similar. These speculations are usually oblivious to the fact that continuity of America's foreign policy and its interests are a given. In general, it makes for a mentally unbalanced person to try to change America's direction, especially when it is mired in Iraq and Afghanistan and is wrestling with the problems of a nuclear Iran and North Korea, the building of a new missile defense system in Europe, the fight against terror and relations with a strengthened Russia (the U.S. prefers the term "pugnacious"). Barack Obama has shown no signs of being such a man.

Come to think of it, the narrowing of the gap between Obama and McCain is not good for Obama. His lead over McCain in the opinion polls is already narrowing. The latest Reuters/Zogby poll shows 47% of Americans for Obama and 40% for McCain. But Obama has the foundering American economy on his side. Lawyers use the term "benefit of the doubt." Obama has "the benefit of recession". Economic slumps or troubles often hit America in election years and sweep one party out of the White House to install another. This was the case with Kennedy in 1960, Nixon in 1968, Carter in 1976, Reagan in 1980 and Clinton in 1994.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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