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U.S. News - Obama Gets Tough

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U.S. News - Obama Gets Tough

Liz Halloran

Speech seen as extension of battle with Clinton over national security

Oh, it's on.

If there was any thought that recent sparring between leading Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over foreign policy would dissipate, Obama's speech this morning on his plan to fight terrorism put that question permanently to rest.

In what his campaign billed as a major address, covering ground from Iraq and Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay and homeland security, Obama tough-talked his way through a terrorism-fighting strategy including the potential use of military strikes on terrorists in Pakistan that he said would make the United States safer and mend its tattered reputation overseas.

And, without mentioning her name, he stuck it to Clinton for her Senate vote to authorize the Iraq war ("Congress became coauthor of a catastrophic war") and her statement during last week's CNN/YouTube debate, where the dust-up started, that if elected she would not meet with leaders of countries such as North Korea and Iran during her first year in office. (During the debate, Obama said unequivocally he would meet with such leaders.)

The Illinois senator today refrained from referring to Clinton as "Bush-Cheney lite," as he did after the debate, in an effort to link her with policies of the past his campaign mantra, after all, is "turn the page." But he did say this: "It's time to turn the page on Washington's conventional wisdom that agreement must be reached before you meet, that talking to other countries is some kind of reward, and that presidents can only meet with people who will tell them what they want to hear." And then he quoted President John Kennedy, saying, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."

Not talking, Obama said, "does not work."

(Apparently the brief we're-all-Democrats-and-there's-more-than-one-way-to-practice-diplomacy comments Monday by Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, at the centrist Democratic Leadership Council gathering failed to resonate with the Obama campaign.)

Today's speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which aides say was scheduled well before the YouTube debate, came as a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News national presidential preference poll shows Clinton widening her lead over Obama, 43 percent to 22 percent. Clinton was at 39 percent in a similar June poll; Obama was at 25 percent. The poll also showed that those surveyed favored both Clinton and Obama over former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the current GOP presidential front-runner. Clinton's aides say the New York senator believes she is winning the national security debate and that the recent back-and-forth with Obama has only helped position her for the general election.

But Obama made it clear today that he is not willing to cede the tough leader mantle to Clinton. He advocated pulling troops out of Iraq, redeploying brigades to the "right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan," and making U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional. "Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan," he said.

Obama said he will not hesitate to use military force to "take out terrorists." In Pakistan, he said, "There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans.... If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President Musharraf won't act, we will."

And, if elected, he said, he would authorize $5 billion over three years to develop an "international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to take down terrorist networks" across the world.

Throughout his speech, Obama evoked the image of a foreign child looking up as a U.S. helicopter passed overhead. "America must show through deeds as well as words that we stand with those who seek a better life," he said. "That child looking up at the helicopter must see America and feel hope."

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