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Obama Delivers Address on Iraq War

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) waves as he is introduced before speaking at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., July 15, 2008. (Associated Press)

Updated 1:22 p.m.
By Jonathan Weisman
Sen. Barack Obama, confronting lingering voter doubts about his strength as commander in chief, sought to put his pledge to end the war in Iraq into the broader context of the war on terror and diplomatic engagement, using a formal, half-hour speech to slam President Bush's foreign policy legacy and to call for huge infusions of military and non-military assistance to Afghanistan and the developing world.

"For eight years, we have paid the price for a foreign policy that lectures without listening, that divides us from one another -- and from the world -- instead of calling us to a common purpose -- a politics that focuses on our tactics in fighting a war without end in Iraq instead of forging a new strategy to face down the true threats that we face," Obama said at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. "We cannot afford four more years of a strategy that is so out of balance and out of step with this defining moment."

As Obama was speaking in Washington, his Republican rival for the White House, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was laying out a strikingly similar policy prescription for the war in Afghanistan, promising three additional combat battalions and an in-flow of non-military assistance to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But while Obama saw such aid as only possible with withdrawal from Iraq, McCain seemed to see no reason why both wars could not be prosecuted with the necessary intensity.

A new poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found Americans to be split down the middle between those backing the presumptive Democratic nominee's 16-month timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops and those agreeing with McCain's position that events, not timetables, should dictate when forces come home.

They are also split on Obama as commander in chief, with 48 percent saying he would be an effective leader of the military and 48 percent saying he would not.

Obama used his speech to try to project a strong image as a leader willing to use military force when necessary but eager to apply other "soft" measures of U.S. might.

"It is unacceptable that almost seven years after nearly 3,000 Americans were killed on our soil, the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 are still at large," he said. "Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahari are recording messages to their followers and plotting more terror. The Taliban controls parts of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda has an expanding base in Pakistan that is probably no farther from their old Afghan sanctuary than a train ride from Washington to Philadelphia. If another attack on our homeland comes, it will likely come from the same region where 9/11 was planned. And yet today, we have five times more troops in Iraq than Afghanistan."

But Obama also pledged a massive increase in aid to the Pakistani people to assist their economic development and foster democracy.

"Make no mistake: we can't succeed in Afghanistan or secure our homeland unless we change our Pakistan policy. We must expect more of the Pakistani government, but we must offer more than a blank check to a General who has lost the confidence of his people. It's time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people. That's why I'm cosponsoring a bill with Joe Biden and Dick Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we do provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience, or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam," he said.

Obama's speech came just before an expected trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, Germany, France and Britain. Both McCain and Obama see an opportunity in Obama's first foray abroad as the presumptive Democratic nominee. McCain mocked Obama for laying out his policy prescriptions before he even left on what has been billed a fact-finding trip. But Obama aides foresee images of a candidate thronged by well-wishers abroad as he promises to restore U.S. standing in the world.

Along that vein, Obama promised today "to send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, 'You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.'"

By Web Politics Editor  |  July 15, 2008; 10:38 AM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Barack Obama , On the Issues  
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