Ballot Box

The Worldview of Al Sharpton

His instincts on foreign policy and national security.

Slate is running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The first series summarized their personal and professional backgrounds. The second series analyzed their buzzwords. The third series outlined what each candidate would focus on as president. This series sketches how they would manage America’s role in the world.

After communism collapsed, American voters lost interest in defense and foreign policy. But those subjects can consume most of a president’s time, and 9/11 returned them to the forefront. It’s difficult to anticipate which hot spots a candidate would have to deal with as president, but it’s possible to get a sense of how he approaches war, diplomacy, trade, and other challenges abroad. This series pieces together a picture of each candidate’s instincts based on his words and his record. Today’s subject is Al Sharpton.

Moralism and multilateralism: Sharpton wants more transparency and consistency in U.S. relations with other countries. In his book Al on America, he says we “cannot out of one side of our mouth call one nation evil and then enter into a partnership with another nation that can be considered equally or even more evil.” He renounces a role as the world’s “supercop” and argues that instead of relying on its military, the United States should “invest in other nations.” Sharpton also accuses President Bush of sending young black men off to war while doing little for their welfare at home.

Humanitarianism and Africa: Sharpton argues that the United States owes a “moral debt” to Africa. He regards recent U.S. policy on AIDS abroad as insufficient and chides economic policymakers for subjecting African nations to a “debt service they can never pay.” He advocates a new Africa policy focusing on debt relief, investment, and “fair trade.” Sharpton visited Sudan in 2001 in an effort to stop the human slavery that persists there. He proposes to make America’s “selective” humanitarianism more consistent by moving aggressively to eliminate the Sudanese slave trade.

Dictators and Latin America: Sharpton wants an immediate end to the embargo on Cuba, which he says has an “anti-Latino flavor.” After visiting Cuba in 2000, Sharpton met Fidel Castro and called him “one of the three most impressive people I have ever met in my life.” Sharpton says they had a “talk about the human rights violations—of which I personally saw none.” He argues that the United States has “continued to demonize Castro at the expense of good, sound foreign policy.” He also believes we’ve treated Mexico with heavy-handed superiority. Current immigration laws are “biased,” he says, and the United States needs a more “respectful relationship” with Mexico.