Media Examine Potential Obama Administration Engagement With Africa In 2011, Foreign Policy Action On Capitol Hill

“President Barack Obama is quietly but strategically stepping up his outreach to Africa, using this year to increase his engagement with a continent that is personally meaningful to him and important to U.S. interests,” the Associated Press writes in a story looking at how the Obama administration might engage with African countries in the upcoming year.

Obama’s only trip to Africa as president took place in 2009, the AP notes. “The White House says Obama will travel to Africa again and the political calendar means the trip will almost certainly happen this year, before Obama has to spend more time on his re-election bid. No decision has been made on which countries Obama will visit, but deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said stops will reflect positive democratic models,” according to the news service. This year, the White House is tracking more than 30 scheduled elections on the continent. “The U.S. is watching and we’re weighing in,” Rhodes said. Also now that other foreign policy issues, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are “on more solid footing,” White House aides believe Obama will be free to focus on other international goals.

In terms of what additional engagement with Africa might look like, the article looks at Obama’s response to the disputed election in the Ivory Coast as an example. “Rhodes said the White House understands that U.S. involvement in African politics can be viewed as meddling. But he said Obama can speak to African leaders with a unique level of candor, reflecting his personal connection to Africa and that his father and other family members have been affected by the corruption that plagues many countries there,” the AP reports.

The article includes comments about African elections from John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria (Pace, 1/3).

Foreign Policy Highlights New Congress’ ‘Foreign-Policy Powers’

Foreign Policy lists four incoming Republican members of Congress, noting their foreign policy experience and/or international interests. “A Navy reservist from Illinois who once worked at the State Department,” the magazine writes of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), adding that he “might have the best foreign-policy chops of any new senator.” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the new House Foreign Affairs Committee chair who “has expressed skepticism about U.S. funding for the United Nations,” is included on the list in addition to Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), the new head of the House Armed Services Committee, and freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who is “no fan of the president’s foreign policy” (Rogin, January/February 2011).

The Hill Lists Foreign Policy Issues To Watch In 2011

The Hill published a list of five “[u]nresolved issues and new challenges” facing Obama this year. “Republicans can’t do much to change Obama’s direction on foreign policy, but they do hold the purse strings to fund the administration’s operations. Fresh off their midterm rout of Democrats, Republicans have expressed their intentions to use that capability,” the newspaper writes before highlighting some of the leadership in the new Congress.

“The Foreign Affairs subcommittees are also expected to take on a greater, more prominent role in a GOP House … Less will change on the Senate side, where Democrats’ majority will be reduced by six,” according to The Hill, which also notes that on the House side “Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), one of Congress’ most vocal human-rights advocates, will lead the subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.”

Among the issues on the list, The Hill includes “oversight,” writing that the “greatest immediate impact on foreign policy from having Republicans rule the House will likely be in oversight, as the new Foreign Affairs chairwoman [Ros-Lehtinen] promises hearings on how foreign policy dollars are being spent.” According to the newspaper, “Efforts will go beyond arm-twisting the president’s agenda to extending the GOP’s Pledge to America cost-cutting promises throughout foreign affairs, and even trimming the committee’s budget itself. What could be on the chopping block? Everything from foreign aid and the State Department to agencies such as USAID.”

The list also includes Sudan as a rising foreign policy issue, calling the upcoming referendum and the political situation in the country “[o]ne of the sharpest yet perhaps least expected foreign policy crises of the new year” (Johnson, 1/2). 

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