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Obama Says He Would Take Fight To Pakistan

Sen. Barack Obama speaks at the Woodrow Wilson Center, where he described an anti-terrorism policy that he says he would pursue if elected president. Some of his Democratic opponents criticized his speech.
Sen. Barack Obama speaks at the Woodrow Wilson Center, where he described an anti-terrorism policy that he says he would pursue if elected president. Some of his Democratic opponents criticized his speech. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)

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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama issued a pointed warning yesterday to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying that as president he would be prepared to order U.S. troops into that country unilaterally if it failed to act on its own against Islamic extremists.

In his most comprehensive statement on terrorism, the senator from Illinois said that the Iraq war has left the United States less safe than it was before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and that if elected he would seek to withdraw U.S. troops and shift the country's military focus to threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"When I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won," he told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in the District. He added, "The first step must be to get off the wrong battlefield in Iraq and take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Obama's warning to Musharraf drew sharp criticism from several of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, but not from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

Obama delivered a biting critique of President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq and of the administration's overall strategy for combating terrorism, while seeking to reassure Americans that his long-stated opposition to the Iraq war would not compromise his commitment to defending the country from the threat of Islamic extremists.

The muscular speech appeared aimed at inoculating him from criticism that he lacks the toughness to lead the country in a post-9/11 world, while attempting to show that an Obama presidency would herald an important shift in the United States' approach to the world, particularly the Middle East and nearby Asian nations.

The speech came a week after Clinton described Obama as "irresponsible and frankly naive" for saying during a Democratic debate that he would be prepared to meet during his first year as president with leaders of rogue nations without preconditions. That set off a days-long argument between the two over diplomacy and the use of the presidency.

Obama described Clinton's approach to diplomacy as "Bush-Cheney light." She described that comparison as "silly." Their differences on the issue of dealing with nations such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, however, appear not to be significant. Both favor a much more energetic and open diplomatic strategy than they say Bush has followed.

Much of Obama's speech yesterday focused on steps designed to reinvigorate U.S. diplomatic efforts to combat terrorism, but the most noteworthy proposals dealt with military actions. Obama said he would deploy at least two more brigades -- about 7,000 troops -- to Afghanistan to combat what he said is the growing Taliban influence there while sending the Afghan government an additional $1 billion in nonmilitary aid.

But he said he would tie U.S. military aid to Pakistan to that country's success in closing down terrorist training camps, in blocking the Taliban from using its territory as a staging ground for attacks on Afghanistan and in getting rid of foreign fighters.

"There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans," he said. "They are plotting to strike again. . . . If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

Obama offered no direct criticism of his leading rival for the Democratic nomination, but he indirectly rebuked Clinton and other Democrats who voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing the war. "With that vote, Congress became co-author of a catastrophic war," he said.


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