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Today, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama laid out his plan to address terrorist threats around the world. In a speech to a foreign policy think tank in Washington, Obama leveled strong criticisms at President Bush over the war in Iraq, which Obama says has made the U.S. less safe from terrorists.
Obama opposed the war from the beginning. But today, he also said that he is prepared to use force, where necessary, to confront terror threats including a possible military strike inside Pakistan.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: All year, Senator Obama has put forth a blistering critique of Bush administration policies regarding fighting terrorism. He continued that today, saying the president squandered an opportunity to bring Americans and the world together, following the attacks of 9/11.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): We got a color-coded politics of fear - patriotism as the possession of one political party,the diplomacy of refusing to talk to other countries.
GONYEA: The senator spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington before an audience of foreign policy scholars, a few members of Congress and lots of journalists. He used this speech to reposition himself as a candidate with a tough posture when it comes to dealing with terrorists.
Over the past week and a half, Obama has engaged in a sometimes-bitter foreign policy debate with rival Democrat Hillary Clinton. He has consistently criticized her vote to give President Bush authority to launch the Iraq war. Obama did not mention Senator Clinton in today's address, but he did say that the war in Iraq should never have been authorized and never been waged that have put America at greater risk.
Today, Senator Obama called for more diplomacy and more outreach to the Muslim world, but he also was determined to show that he fully understands the threats America faces.
Sen. OBAMA: Just because the president misrepresents our enemy does not mean that we do not have enemies. The terrorists are at war with us. The threat is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, but the threat is real.
GONYEA: He, once again, called for the U.S. to have all combat brigades out of Iraq by next spring. He said the U.S. needs to focus again on Afghanistan, where the Taliban is launching a comeback, and Pakistan, where al-Qaida has found safe haven. And in the speech's most surprising passage, he said he recognize the challenges Pakistan's embattled President Musharraf faces, but that the U.S. must be prepared to act.
Sen. OBAMA: There are terrorist holdup in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.
GONYEA: That strong statement, bluntly hawkish in tone, was clearly designed to send a message to Obama's rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination and to voters that his image as a fresh, idealistic face in American politics should not be mistaken for softness.
Senator Hillary Clinton was asked to respond to Obama's comments about Pakistan during an interview with the American Urban Radio Network. At first, she said the U.S. needs to find ways to help Pakistan take the action that only Pakistan should take. But then, she went on essentially echo what Obama said using the same kind of tough language.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan, I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured.
GONYEA: But for the Obama campaign, following last week's spat with the Clinton campaign over whether he is up to the foreign policy challenges of the presidency, today was a day when he put forth a position that Mrs. Clinton was compelled to match. It comes as a new Wall Street Journal poll shows Clinton opening up a sizeable lead over Obama, which, of course, keeps the pressure on Senator Obama as well.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.