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  • Superb Intentions and U.S. Policy Constraints
  • David S. Wiley (bio)

Barack Obama's election was an extraordinary event in American and world history, but already in his second year as president, the luster and the popularity of the Obama administration has faded, even among many who mobilized to elect him. In addition to fighting two wars, Obama is attempting to fix a broken health care system in the context of a nationally contentious electorate and Congress. He also is coping with a mounting debt burden from seeking to recover from an economic collapse and public anger at an environmental disaster of mega proportions, requiring him to rein in the banks and corporations that were unleashed from public regulation during the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton years. In addition, he is commander-in-chief of the U.S. military and its rapidly expanding U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

This was an administration elected on "hope for change." Indeed, Obama's election raised expectations across the U.S. and throughout Africa that a man of African heritage, indeed a global person, could be and had been elected. This quintessentially optimistic, intelligent, and gifted American is the product of a Kenyan father and an internationally engaged mother, a multicultural childhood, and a global education as graduate of a private secondary school and elite American universities, and he has been pinned simultaneously with American, biracial, African American, African, and even global identities (see Zeleza 2009). [End Page 16]

The Good News on the Obama Africa Policies

Before becoming president, Obama had shown good instincts on Africa and the needs of the poorer nations. In 2007, before his presidential campaign was under way, he introduced Senate Bill 2433, the Global Poverty Act, which aims to "reduce by one-half the proportion of people worldwide, between 1990 and 2015, who live on less than $1 per day." At the urging of the U.K and several European nations, he was seeking to join them in providing 0.7 percent of the gross national product for foreign aid as part of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals plan. (Congress did not pass the Act.) More recently, Obama's 2010 budget proposes doubling U.S. foreign aid to more than $50 billion per year despite the burden of a $1.75 trillion deficit and the worst recession in more than a quarter of a century (see Patten 2009). The Obama administration also has proposed a 54 percent increase in international family planning and reproductive health programs, the highest funding levels ever. As reflected in his budgets, Obama's priorities include increased support for the IMF and World Bank, increased global health programs, more support for U.N. peacekeeping activities, and increased funding for combating climate change, for agriculture, and for the Peace Corps. Finally, Obama has proposed a 10 percent increase in funding and broader support for the State Department in order to give new focus to diplomatic negotiation rather than the "hard power" of the U.S. military, a reversal of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld policies.

On a similar note, soon after taking office, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a commitment to African development and multilateral cooperation by "helping African nations . . . conserve their natural resources and reap fair benefits from them; stopping war in Congo; [and] ending autocracy in Zimbabwe and human devastation in Darfur." "We must work hard with our African friends to reach the Millennium Development Goals in health, education and economic opportunities," she added, referring to a set of goals set out by the United Nations that seek to end poverty and hunger; instill universal education, gender equality, and child and maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS; and promote environmental sustainability and global partnerships (Clinton 2010).

Similarly, Obama places a new emphasis on multilateralist foreign policy that respects the global diversity of differing interests and values among nations. To the West Point graduating class in 2010 he pointed out that their "success will be measured not merely by performance on the battlefield, but also by your understanding of the cultures and traditions and languages in the place where you serve." He continued with a description of a new perspective on U.S. international cooperation...


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