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Washington Post - Obama Defends Foreign Policy Talk

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Location: Las Vegas, NV


Washington Post - Obama Defends Foreign Policy Talk

Kathleen Hennessey

-- Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Friday that rival Hillary Rodham Clinton was wrong when she said politicians shouldn't discuss hypothetical decisions on foreign policy.

Speaking at a conference of the National Association of Black Journalists, the Illinois senator defended his recent call for military action to hunt down terrorists if Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf doesn't act. Obama also said it would be "a profound mistake" to deploy nuclear weapons in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Clinton, who has tried to cast her rival as too inexperienced for the job of commander in chief, said presidents shouldn't make "blanket statements" with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.

"She said, I don't I think we should talk about it. Well, I think we should talk about it. I think the American people ought to have a debate about our foreign policy because it's so messed up and if we don't talk about it we're going to end up repeating the same mistakes," Obama told an audience at a conference of the National Association of Black Journalists.

In April 2006, Clinton was questioned about using nuclear weapons to prevent Iran from escalating its nuclear program. "I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table," she said.

The Clinton campaign said her comments were made in a different context.

Obama told the group of more than 1,000 reporters and editors that judgment trumped experience and sought to link Clinton to the Bush administration.

"Being experienced is not enough. The question is, what lessons do you learn from your experience?" he said. "Nobody had a better track record in experience than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, but they had bad judgment ... The people who have been criticizing me over the past two weeks are the people who engineered what is the biggest foreign policy fiasco in a generation."

Obama also defended his promise to open dialogue with dictators, another proposal that drew fire from his Democratic opponents.

"But for me to have met with those individuals sends a message to the world that America is not so arrogant that we insist that you agree to everything we do before we even talk to you," he told the NABJ audience. "I'm not afraid to lose a propaganda battle with a bunch of dictators."

Obama returned to the same themes a few hours later, drawing applause as he told a town hall audience at a Las Vegas high school that he was willing to listen to people.

"Perhaps there are ways we can talk about working together," he told about 1,000 Democratic precinct captains, supporters and undecided voters in the cavernous main school hallway.

He said he wouldn't set conditions on parties to get them to the table.

"When you say 'preconditions,' what you're really saying is, 'I'm not going to talk to you until you agree to do exactly what I want you to do,'" Obama said. "Well, that's not how negotiations take place."

Earlier, Obama met with restaurant and hotel workers, members of the Culinary Workers Union. The group is expected to be a powerful organizing force for whomever it endorses before Nevada's Jan. 19 caucus.

The union currently is engaged in heated contract negotiations with casino giant MGM Mirage Inc. Obama repeated his promise to walk the picket line with the union should the dispute lead to a strike.

He aimed his rhetoric at corporate America.

"When you hear about hedge fund managers who are making a million dollars and are trying to avoid paying taxes or are paying a lower tax rate than all of you ... you know something's wrong, you know the country is out of balance," Obama said.


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