Posted on Tue, Nov. 27, 2007
BY CHARLES BABINGTON
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. --
Democrat Barack Obama, confronting claims that he's light on foreign
policy, surrounded himself Tuesday with heavyweights who said his
differences with rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and others are just what
the country needs: A new leader willing to talk with America's enemies
and become a better friend to struggling nations.
Obama, closing the three-hour policy forum, said a president should be
unafraid to meet with tyrants, and must restore the nation's moral
authority by ending torture, closing Guantánamo Bay's military prison
and helping fight global poverty and AIDS.
''Our ability to lead has been set back by our bluster and our refusal
to talk to nations we don't like,'' the Illinois senator said. ``Our
security and standing have suffered because of the misguided war in Iraq
that should have never been authorized.''
Obama, who was elected to the Senate in 2004, never mentioned Clinton, a
New York senator and the Democratic front-runner in national polls. But
Obama underscored some of his main criticisms of her, recalling how he
opposed from the outset a war that she voted to authorize and repeatedly
calling for greater openness in setting policy.
In perhaps another veiled reference to Clinton's claims of deep
experience in Washington, Obama said of Vice President Dick Cheney and
former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: ``Their experience has not led
to good judgment.''
Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, another top Democratic
contender, also voted in 2002 to authorize the Iraq war.
For months, Obama has portrayed himself as more willing than Clinton to
veer sharply from Bush administration policies on many fronts. Foreign
affairs may pose his biggest challenge, however, as the New York senator
and former first lady has called him naive and irresponsible.
Obama has fired back, saying Clinton is too secretive and too wedded to
existing or familiar ways of handling domestic and diplomatic matters.
In this seaport town Tuesday, he was embraced by several foreign policy
advisors, including three appointees from Bill Clinton's administration:
former national security adviser Tony Lake, former Navy secretary
Richard Danzig and former assistant secretary of State for African
affairs Susan Rice.
''I cannot understand why he is attacked for a lack of experience,''
Lake told an audience of 150 before Obama arrived after touring a nearby
Naval facility. Obama is older than Bill Clinton was when inaugurated,
Lake said, and probably has more foreign policy experience than
presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Clinton and the current
president had when they took office.
''His life experiences of living abroad when he was young, traveling by
bus in Kenya,'' Lake said, ''have given him a real grasp of the troubles
around the world.'' Obama opposed the Iraq war ''for the right reasons,
early on,'' when many other Democrats supported it, Lake said.
Senator Clinton has mocked Obama for citing his childhood stints in
Indonesia and elsewhere as a key element of his foreign policy
experience. She also criticized his willingness to meet with leaders of
Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea during his first year in
office, saying a president must avoid being ``used for propaganda
Tuesday's event was the latest in a series of speeches and articles in
which Obama has rolled out his foreign policy proposals. He said he
would bring U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by March 2008, and he cited
his Senate resolution warning the Bush administration that Congress has
not sanctioned military action against Iran.
Obama said he would give Iran ''a clear choice: stop their disturbing
behavior and there will be political and economic incentives; continue
doing what they're doing, and we will ratchet up the pressure.'' Other
nations will support the effort, he said, ``if we go the extra mile
Obama said the United States must kill or capture ''hard-core
jihadists,'' but it should approach the world in general with more hope
Americans' fate is intricately linked to that of people in Asia, Africa,
Russia and elsewhere, he said. ''Increasingly, their security and
well-being and prosperity will help shape our security and well-being
and prosperity,'' he said.
Obama said the United States must limit greenhouse gases, reduce its
dependence on oil and help nations such as India and China develop
economically without doing excessive environmental damage.