• Obama calls on America to grapple with the difficult issue of race; Democrats ahead in the money game; Out of Iraq Caucus supports Clinton, Gov. Richardson of New Mexico pitches for Obama
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  • Leading Democratic Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama of Illinois delivered a major speech on the contentious issue of race in America on March 18 in Philadelphia. He was reacting to the posting of several videos of sermons given by the long-time pastor at his church in Chicago, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. that contained incendiary statements on a range of issues from AIDS to White people1. Citing his own personal history as giving hope, Senator Obama conceded that the country’s racial divisions were still active and that “the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away.” He called upon Americans to acknowledge the difficult reality of race and face it and not “walk way now.”

    Meanwhile, the Democratic Presidential candidates were way ahead of the leading Republican candidate Senator John McCain in the arena of fund-raising. In reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on March 20, the Obama camp revealed that it had raised over $55 million for the month of February as against $35 million by Senator Clinton2. This was in contrast to the $11 million raised for the same month by Senator McCain3.

    The Democratic candidates on their part continued to pick up supporters to bolster their respective candidatures. While the Out of Iraq Caucus in the American Senate lent its support to Senator Clinton, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico pitched in for Senator Obama4. Gov. Richardson’s endorsement was seen as crucial by commentators as he had occupied senior positions in the Clinton administration including that of Energy Secretary and Ambassador to the UN and was a leading elected official among the Hispanics5.

    The Republican Presidential candidate Senator John McCain meanwhile visited Israel, London, and Paris before his scheduled visit to Iraq along with Senator Joseph Lieberman and Senator Lindsey Graham6. Mr. McCain’s foreign trip showcased his foreign policy expertise as well reinforced the view that the US presence in Iraq would continue for a longer time period under a Republican administration. In Israel, speaking at the Katyusha-affected southern town of Sderot, Senator McCain defended Israel’s military operations to stop rocket attacks and its blockade of Gaza. Though he did not visit Palestine, Mr. McCain expressed confidence in Mahmoud Abbas’s commitment to reach a peace deal with Israel7.

    The Senator’s remarks on his visit to London meanwhile put him on a collision course with the British authorities as he reiterated his preference for crop spraying in Afghanistan to eradicate poppies8. Britain has a lead role in Afghanistan’s anti-narcotics program. The country had witnessed a record production of poppy in the previous year, especially in the Helmand province where most of the British forces were concentrated. His remarks also highlighted another area of disagreement should his bid for American presidency succeed in November. He stated that he was skeptical of the assessment of the recent US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons programme. McCain reiterated that he would keep open the military option against Tehran.

    In a related development, a report in the Los Angeles Times charged that Senator McCain’s strong point - his experience on foreign policy issues and unequivocal hard stances on security issues – was not borne out by facts. The report noted that the Republican candidate had taken diverse views over his 25 years in Congress - ranging from pragmatic to hawkish. It noted that the Senator had proposed to cut off financial aid to embattled US forces in Somalia and that in 1983, tried to thwart President Regan’s deployment of troops in Lebanon9.