Another Perspective

Premature Presidency

Measuring the Oval Office drapes and meddling abroad, Obama may have run afoul of the Logan Act.

By 10.28.08

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Senator Barack Obama's recurring habit of interfering in U.S. relations with foreign nations represents more than petty, cheap shot politics. It appears to be a violation of the Logan Act.

Established in 1799, the Logan Act made it a crime for any U.S. citizen to engage in activities "with any foreign government … in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States." The act even prohibits members of Congress from acting unilaterally.

The report of Obama's attempt last June to obstruct the negotiation of a status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Iraq is exactly the type of interference the Logan Act outlawed. According to Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., Obama "urged Iraq to delay the [memorandum of understanding] between Iraq and the United States until the new administration was in place."

Obama's desire to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq in 16 months is exactly the development the demoralized and virtually defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq could use to reconstitute and reenergize its force of terrorist fighters. The Obama plan would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In spite of how completely wrong such a strategy would be, occupying the presidency would give Obama the right to implement such a plan. That is, unless Congress were to enact legislation over an Obama veto that would block his hurried withdrawal plan.

However, Obama is not the president and possibly may not become the president in 2009. To send mixed signals and undermine current foreign relations strategies by negotiating a side deal is unstatesmanlike, at the very least, and perhaps illegal.

Widespread press accounts of Obama's activities in support of Kenya's opposition candidate Raila Odinga in August 2006 and again earlier this year indicate he was meddling in state affairs that have a direct bearing on U.S. relations.

Kenya has been the most stable and democratic country in sub-Saharan Africa since its 1963 independence. Neighboring states Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda have been marked by religious, tribal and economic strife for decades. Tanzania to the south is among the world's poorest nations. In contrast, Kenya has been a regional center of trade and finance and has been an American tourist destination. Kenya has also been a frequent port of call for U.S. Navy ships operating in the Indian Ocean.

"I am here not as a grandson anymore but as a senator and a representative of the U.S. government," Obama announced on his August 26, 2006 visit to his father's village. "When I'm here I'm not on my own but accountable to the American government."

Such proclamations and Obama's concurrent actions and statements imply the U.S. had taken a position in the then-upcoming presidential race between incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and challenger Raila Odinga, who also happens to be Obama's first cousin. Obama's criticism of Kibaki was transparent when he announced, "Kenyans are now yearning for change and are frustrated over the leaders' tolerance of corruption." A government spokesman countered, "It is very clear that the senator has been used as a puppet to perpetuate opposition politics."

The spokesman was alluding not only to Obama's criticism of Kibaki but also to his frequent rally appearances with Odinga during his six-day Kenya visit. Odinga, who attended college in East Germany during the 1960s at the expense of the communist East German government, is an avowed Marxist. He even named his oldest son after Fidel Castro. Last year, Odinga partnered with Islamic leaders, promising to implement numerous Muslim demands in return for Muslim backing of his presidential candidacy.

After Odinga's sweeping loss in the December 2007 presidential race, his supporters launched an ethnic cleansing campaign targeting Christians and Kibaki's fellow tribesmen. The violence did not end until more than 1,500 Kenyans were killed, more than 500,000 were displaced and Kibaki offered to appoint Odinga as prime minister. Obama acknowledged interrupting his New Hampshire primary campaign to call Odinga during the worst of the ethnic cleansing.

The Logan Act was enacted to ensure the U.S. spoke with one voice and maintained one policy toward any nation, especially in tumultuous times. Attempting to torpedo a status of forces agreement with Iraq that protects U.S. troops or damage the political standing of a strong American ally during his reelection bid is more than just dangerous. It is against the law.

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About the Author
Mark Hyman hosts "Behind the Headlines," a commentary program for Sinclair Broadcast Group. You can follow him on Twitter at @markhyman.