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OBAMA: "Subsidising Big Oil Makes No Sense"

Bankole Thompson interviews BARACK OBAMA

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan, Oct 3 2008 (IPS) - Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama sat down with IPS correspondent Bankole Thompson again on Thursday for a one-on-one interview in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where over 15,000 enthusiastic Obama supporters turned out to hear his message of change at downtown's Calder Plaza.

Sen. Barack Obama Credit: Bankole Thompson/IPS

Sen. Barack Obama Credit: Bankole Thompson/IPS

As the presidential campaign enters the final four weeks, and with recent national polls showing that the Illinois senator is widening his lead with Republican opponent John McCain, the interview centred on hot-button foreign policy issues in light of the 700-billion-dollar Wall Street bailout.

Obama answered questions ranging from what U.S. relations would be like with Pakistan if he wins the White House, to how Washington could re-engage with Latin America as China's influence also grows in that part of the world, cutting the massive subsidies for big oil companies like ExxonMobil, and increasing U.S. foreign aid to bolster the floundering U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

IPS: There are supposed to be built-in-protections for the middle class and poor in the bailout of Wall Street. How would a Barack Obama administration ensure that those protections are maintained?

BO: What I've done is written into the legislation, that there is going to be an independent oversight board to monitor what the Treasury is doing. We have legislation that says that the money from the sale of assets that are purchased all goes back into reducing the national debt so that taxpayers are getting their money back.

But it's going to require that the next administration is diligent about these protections and it's going to be very important that the next administration does everything it can to strengthen the underlying housing market and to prevent the foreclosures that have been devastating in so many communities, particularly in the African American and Hispanic communities.

IPS: You talk about oil companies a lot. What about the 20 to 40 billion dollars they get from the U.S. government in subsidies every year? Under an Obama administration, would that be eliminated or cut to invest in alternative energy?

BO: Well, I think there is no doubt that we should not be giving them tax breaks when they are making 12 billion dollars a quarter. You've had three consecutive quarters now where ExxonMobil made almost 12 billion dollars a quarter and the notion that they need subsidies makes no sense. And so we would, I think, be trying as part of a comprehensive energy plan to make sure that those subsidies are shifted to alternative fuels like solar and wind, biodiesel that can be so important to our long-term energy future.

IPS: Would the United States under an Obama administration increase foreign aid given the importance of achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals to ease global poverty?

BO: Well, I have said that I think it is important for us to increase foreign aid. Now I have to say that my plans were structured prior to this recent financial crisis. So we are going to have to see what is possible in next year's budget. I can make an assurance that we will not cut foreign aid, that we will increase it. We may not be able to increase it as quickly or by as much that I wanted to do when I put my plans together last year.

IPS: You've said China is engaged with South America and the United States is absent. What would your administration do?

BO: Well, I think it is a matter of reaching out to these countries and asking, how can we not only work with them around critical issues like anti-drug efforts, cracking down on criminal gangs; I think we also have to be thinking, how do we help these countries that still have millions of poor people in them? Provide job opportunities and growth opportunities. And part of that is trade structured not just for corporations but for workers. Part of it is basic infrastructure, public health infrastructure, educational infrastructure. That makes a huge difference.

IPS: Switching quickly to labour. You've talked about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and that there will be some modifications when your administration takes over. What about the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)?

BO: I think any of our trade agreements has to have strong labour provisions, strong environmental protections and we have to enforce it. We have not been good at enforcing our agreements. That's something that is going to change in my administration.

IPS: How do you intend to address the repercussions of the Wall Street bailout on Mexico's economy, since the two economies are tied together?

BO: Well, I think it's not just Mexico. The entire world economy is now tied together. Europe is now seeing huge problems similar to what we've been seeing on Wall Street. So that's why it is important for us to coordinate with the G-20 countries [a bloc of developing nations] to do everything we can to make sure that when we have regulations in place here, that they are mirrored overseas that there is just one system of rules that all of global capital has to play by.

IPS: Pakistan has been in the news a lot, and it came up in your Sep. 26 debate on foreign policy. Under your administration, what would the relationship be between Washington and Pakistan, in light of the fact that a lot of U.S. tax dollars are going there?

BO: Well, Pakistan is a difficult problem. You've got a fragile democracy after years of military rule. These hills and mountains of Pakistan where the Taliban and al Qaeda have made base camps are very difficult to access. I think Pakistanis are worried that if they go after them too hard that they would see more of the bombings like they saw at the Marriott Hotel.

So what we are going to have to do is to work diligently with them, explaining, "We would continue to provide you support and aid but you have to take this issue of terrorism much more seriously than you are taking it right now." And in fact conditioning it on their willingness to cooperate and hunting down those who killed 3,000 Americans [on 9/11].


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