Obama 'Won't Wait for Castro to Die' Before Opening Ties

By Evan Moore | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

Washington (CNSNews.com) - As president, Barack Obama would "not wait until [Cuban dictator Fidel Castro] dies" before establishing diplomatic relations with Havana, according to a Democratic lawmaker acting as a surrogate for the Illinois senator in a panel discussion on Tuesday.

The comment came a day after Obama said -- during a debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube -- that he would be willing to talk to the leaders of undemocratic and hostile regimes without preconditions during his first year in office. Obama called that fact that the Bush administration had not done so "a disgrace."

Tuesday's event, hosted by the Center for U.S. Global Engagement, featured surrogates from the two parties standing in for the 2008 presidential hopefuls in two consecutive panels.

In a Democratic panel moderated by George Mason University professor Frank Sesno, formerly of CNN, the campaign surrogates emphasized the use of diplomacy and soft-power engagement with foreign nations.

Asked what the candidates would do should Castro die during their administration, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), speaking for Obama, said Obama would "not wait until he dies" before he would open diplomatic ties.

Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), speaking for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, criticized Obama's willingness to speak with Castro, saying the U.S. should not be talking to dictators when dissidents within their countries were working for freedom.

Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass), speaking for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, joked that Castro may never die. He said Clinton also supported measures to hasten the Cuban people's transitioning to democracy.

The forum was part of the Center for U.S. Global Engagement's campaign to urge presidential candidates to incorporate greater use of development and diplomacy as the keystone of America's engagement with the world.

On the issue of increasing American's global assistance, the panelists approved of President Bush's campaign to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, but urged that more be done to deal with issues such as poverty and development.

McGovern (Clinton) said Americans believe that the federal government spends far more money on international aid than it actually does. Public education will be needed to build the political will to raise foreign aid from its current level of less than 1 percent of GDP to 3-4 percent, as proposed by the Clinton campaign, he said.

Smith (Obama) said that while "practical" arguments for increasing aid - such as reducing possible breeding grounds for terrorism - may be moderately effective, a Democratic president should ultimately pursue this policy on moral grounds.

Miller (Edwards) agreed, saying that America's foreign policy was a reflection of our national character. He reiterated Edward's proposal to create a cabinet-level director of overseas development, with 10,000 workers deployed abroad to help bring basic infrastructure, such as access to clean drinking water, to undeveloped countries.

Though the surrogates of the campaigns mostly remained cordial throughout the debate, they minced no words in signaling their desire to break with policies of the Bush Administration. McGovern said America's standing abroad was at an all-time low due to popular disapproval of the Iraq war.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), representing Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.), said a Democratic president in 2009 should devote policy to "making amends for the shameful policies" of President Bush.
'Strengthen military, support dissidents, clean up UN'

Sesno also moderated a separate panel with representatives of the leading Republican candidates.

Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), speaking for Rudy Giuliani, immediately sought to differentiate the former New York City Mayor's campaign from that of the Democrats, stressing the geopolitical challenge poised by radical jihadists. "Islamic terrorism is our nation's number-one enemy," he said, "and we can't sugarcoat that," he said.

King added that American use of diplomacy alone can not manage the world's problems, and that a strong military capable of doing its job was required to solve global crises.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), representing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, emphasized the need for America to remain strong, both militarily and economically. Negotiations with dictatorships and hostile regimes must be from a position of strength, he said.

Hoekstra emphasized Romney's proposal to reshape and remake much of America's foreign policy apparatus, which was forged during the Cold War, to achieve "unity of purpose" between the U.S.'s armed forces and civilian agencies.

He conceded that the U.S.'s international standing was not "where we want it to be," and said a President Romney would be open to criticism from staff and from international allies when formulating American policy.

On dealing with Iran, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) - speaking for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) - said the U.S. should consider supporting indigenous forces opposed to the regime. It should also take advantage of the pro-Western attitude of the nation's predominately young population in advancing regime change of some sort in Tehran.

On the issue of foreign aid, Lungren said the U.S. should not apologize for not spending as much as some would like, but rather be proud that the country is a force for good in the world.

The United Nations also loomed large in the debate. Asserting that the world body was still corrupt, King said a President Giuliani would work to reform it.

Lungren highlighted McCain's proposal to form a "League of Democracies" to advance global freedom and combat hostile dictatorships worldwide, independent of the U.N.

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