Obama Touts Foreign Policy Judgment
By Shailagh Murray
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Sen. Barack Obama turned the spotlight back to foreign policy today, arguing that his opposition to the Iraq war and willingness to talk to U.S. adversaries makes him the Democrat most likely to win the general election.
The electability argument is one Obama is expected to advance forcefully in the final days leading to the Jan. 3 caucuses, as Iowa Democrats sort through a crowded field and decide once and for all which candidate to support. To attest to his judgment, given his short tenure in national politics, Obama offered up a panel of foreign policy experts, including Anthony Lake, former national security adviser to President Clinton.
"We know what we're going to get from the Republican nominee -- more Bush-Cheney foreign policy," said Obama, speaking after the panel had concluded its session. "When I'm the Democratic nominee I will offer a clear choice. My opponent won't be able to say I ever supported the war in Iraq, because I haven't. He won't be able to say that I don't support a clear timetable to bring our troops home, because I support such a timetable. He won't be able to say that I voted to use our troops in Iraq to counter Iran, or that I supported the Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to leaders we don't like, and he won't be able to say that I wavered on something as fundamental as whether or not it's okay for America to torture, because it's never okay."
"This isn't simply about drawing contrasts," Obama continued, "it's about a change in our foreign policy that you can believe in. So when you consider who to caucus for, I ask you to consider my judgment and vision."
He even cut President Bush some slack on the Iraq war. "George Bush didn't take us into war alone," said Obama. "Congress gave him that authority," and then he read the title of the 2002 Senate resolution supported by Democratic rivals John Edwards, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd. Obama was not a member of the Senate at the time, but he said at the time that he would have voted against it.
Lake introduced himself as "an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama" while calling the 2008 election a referendum on "authenticity" vs. "artificiality."
"That's why I'm for him," Lake said.
Obama fielded questions on Pakistan, China and Israel, and called for greater emphasis on foreign languages and cultures in U.S. schools. He singled out a decline in the number of foreign students who come here to study, the result of a visa crackdown after Sept. 11. Obama's father, who was born in Kenya, won a scholarship to the University of Hawaii, which is where he met Obama's mother. "This used to be one of the single best public diplomacy tools in our possession," Obama said of the student visa program.
The characteristics that make Obama different - the fact that he is African American, that his father was a Muslim and that Obama's middle name is Hussein, that he lived in Indonesia as a child - have become landmines for his opponents. But Obama and his surrogates increasingly tout those distinctions as strengths that set him apart from a more traditional Democratic pack. The senator mentioned his father several times during today's forum, noting at one point, "my father was from Africa," when addressing the crisis in Sudan.
"If we elect him, it is not just that we will elect a president who presents an extraordinary new face to the world. America needs to present such a face. But it's going to say something very important about us as Americans," Lake said. "The act of electing this man would tell the world we have turned the page, there is a new face to the American people."
Lake pointed to one perceived vulnerability, Obama's short tenure on the national stage. "I know he gets attacked on this, but I think it's a positive, his experience," said Lake. "The fact is, that having served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Veterans Affairs Committee, Homeland Security, etc., -- he has more experience already in our area than did Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton, George Bush."
Did someone say Bill Clinton? "Oh and by the way, I looked it up recently," Lake continued. Obama "is one year older than Bill Clinton was when I was organizing foreign policy for him in 1992."
Web Politics Editor
December 18, 2007; 3:06 PM ET
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