December 10, 2008 8:17 pm

Hope over US foreign policy shift

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The imminent change of guard in Washington has raised high hopes of a new direction in foreign policy, with the United Nations senior human rights official predicting this week that the arrival of the Obama administration could mark the return of the US to “the international family”.

Speaking on the eve of Wednesday’s 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, Navi Pillay, UN human rights commissioner, said the record of the Bush administration had been disappointing. “This is why there are great expectations pinned on the forthcoming presidency of Barack Obama.”

Mr Obama has pledged greater co-operation with the UN and other international agencies, although the pace of policy change is likely to be determined by Hillary Clinton, his choice as secretary of state.

She will not be lacking for advice. The incoming administration was this week urged to make the prevention of genocide a central plank of its foreign policy and to prepare the US military to deploy abroad if necessary to protect civilians against their own repressive governments.

The recommendations came in an independent report authored by Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration, and a team that included other former senior US officials.

Genocide action groups hope Mr Obama will adopt a more interventionist approach than his predecessors in defending threatened populations around the world in co-operation with US allies.

They have been encouraged by the nomination of Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state and a protêgé of Ms Albright, as the new US ambassador at the UN. Ms Rice, who Mr Obama also plans to appoint to his cabinet, has in the past called for military action to prevent Sudan carrying out genocide in its province of Darfur.

Ms Albright said at the UN: “I couldn’t be happier than to have Susan Rice come up to the United Nations. I’ve known her since she was four years old.” Of the Obama transition team as a whole, she said: “We already have a sense . . . that they are great supporters of early-warning prevention.”

“It’s really good news,” said Jerry Fowler of the Save Darfur Coalition, commenting on Ms Rice’s nomination.

Such optimism might be tempered, however, by a string of pressing foreign policy issues the Obama administration will inherit, including Iraq, Afghanistan and terrorism, the latter highlighted by the recent Mumbai attacks.

That agenda might limit the administration’s scope for action in various arenas in which genocide is a threat. The Genocide Prevention Project action group, which this week urged the UN to put more effort into preventing genocide through diplomacy, maintains a watch list that includes Sudan, Myanmar, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

During the election campaign, Ms Rice was seen as a representative of a more idealistic school of foreign policy thinking, together with Anthony Lake, Mr Obama’s other chief foreign policy adviser.

During the Democratic primary campaign Ms Rice was also at the forefront of attacks on Mrs Clinton’s foreign policy record.

The difference in emphasis between the two was highlighted in Ms Rice and Mrs Clinton’s respective comments at their formal nomination last week. Ms Rice spoke of the president-elect’s “visionary agenda”, his commitment to “change” and his promises, among other things, to “tackle climate change, end genocide [and] fight poverty and disease”.

Mrs Clinton struck a notably more pragmatic note, committing herself to “vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries”.

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