WASHINGTON — If he were commander-in-chief, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said Wednesday, he would sponsor a U.S. strike in Pakistan to root out high-value terrorist targets and he would visit a Muslim country in his first 100 days in office to “make it clear we are not at war with Islam.”
While the Bush administration has been accommodating to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, Obama, drawing a contrast, said “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will.”
The tough talk came in Obama’s most extensive speech to date on combatting terrorism and restoring the United States’ image in Muslim nations as a way to battle extremism.
The speech drew criticism from presidential campaign rivals Sen. Chris Dodd and Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The campaign of Obama’s main competitor, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, decided not to react.
While not mentioning Clinton by name, Obama increased his criticism of her 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq war. “With that vote, Congress became co-author of a catastrophic war,” Obama said.
Obama’s foreign policy advisers said they have been working on the speech for weeks, though it follows a disagreement that started last week with Clinton. Clinton called Obama “irresponsible, and, frankly naive” for saying in a debate that he would agree to meet, without preconditions, with the leaders of Cuba, North Korea, Syria and Iran if he were president.
Both Clinton and Obama are calling for a break with the Bush policy of non-engagement. They are open to meeting with rogue leaders but differ on the diplomatic process. Obama said in agreeing to meet with hostile leaders, “I will do the careful preparation needed, and let these countries know where America stands.”
Dodd and Biden overtly criticized Obama as the primary heats up.
“It is dangerous and irresponsible to leave even the impression the United States would needlessly and publicly provoke a nuclear power,” Dodd said.
“We find it a little disingenuous that Sen. Obama is hailing this as a new bold initiative,” said Biden’s campaign manager, Luis Navarro.
The Bush administration is concerned about destabilizing the Musharraf regime. “We think that our approach to Pakistan is one that not only respects the sovereignty of Pakistan as a sovereign government, but is also designed to work in a way where we are working in cooperation with the local government,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow, reacting to Obama’s speech.
Several of Obama’s foreign policy experts who worked on the speech, attorneys Gregg Craig, Jeh Johnson, and from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Samantha Power and Sarah Sewall, watched him deliver the speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington on Wednesday. The speechwriter, Ben Rhodes, recently was hired by Obama’s campaign from the center.
Craig, interviewed after the speech said that, as president, Obama would travel to an Islamic nation such as Indonesia or Morocco to launch a public diplomacy drive with Muslim nations.