photo by radiospike
Hat Tip: Dan Balz, Washington Post
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama today pledged an aggressive war against Islamic extremists, calling for the deployment of at least 7,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to combat the growing Taliban influence and promising to order U.S. forces into Pakistan if necessary to seek out and kill known terrorists.
“When I am president, we will wage a war that has to be won,” Obama told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. He added, “I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to the United States.”
Obama’s speech represented the most comprehensive outline of his approach to Islamic terrorism. He said ending the war in Iraq is crucial to success in the broader struggle against terrorism.
“The terrorists are at war with us,” he said. “The threat is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, but the threat is real.”
The Illinois senator offered a biting critique of President Bush’s foreign policy decisions after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, while seeking to reassure Americans that his long-stated opposition to the war in Iraq would not make him hesitant to vigorously pursue extremists who threaten the United States.
He repeated a pledge to double U.S. foreign aid to $50 billion, provide $2 billion to combat the influence of Islamic madrassas and launch a more ambitious public diplomacy initiative that he said he would personally lead. He also called for additional steps to protect the homeland from possible attack.
Obama said that, as president, he would make U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional on the success of President Pervez Musharraf’s efforts to shut down terrorist training camps and prevent the Taliban from using the nation’s territory as a staging ground.
“Let me make this clear,” Obama said. “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again . . . If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.”
Bush, he said, squandered national and international unity in a reckless war in Iraq that has compromised American values, undermined U.S. influence and left the country less secure.
“Because of a war in Iraq that should never have been authorized and should never have been waged, we are now less safe than we were before 9/11,” Obama said.
He also took a thinly veiled swipe at his principal rival for the Democratic nomination, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, with sharp words of criticism for the Congress, which he said had “rubber-stamped the rush to war” in 2002. “Congress became a co-author of a catastrophic war,” he said.”
Clinton, who voted for the Iraq war resolution, last week had described Obama’s willingness to meet with leaders of rogue nations without pre-conditions as “irresponsible and frankly naive.” That sparked a days-long argument between the two about diplomacy and the presidency.
In his speech today, Obama said the “lesson of the Bush years is that not talking [to hostile nations] does not work,” and signaled his desire to take a different approach.
“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,” he said.
Obama accused the Bush administration of undermining American values and said that if he becomes president, “we will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers and that justice is not arbitrary.”
He said he would prohibit torture “without exception,” assure that any intelligence gathering adheres to the letter of the law and close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama said he would end the Iraq war as president if Bush has not done so by the end of his second term. That, he said, would free up resources for fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. He pledged at least two additional brigades for the effort there and said he favored sending the Afghan government an additional $1 billion in non-military aid.