Obama Defends Foreign Policy Statements

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 16, 2007; 7:44 PM

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- Democratic Barack Obama on Thursday defended controversial foreign policy statements he's made recently, saying presidential candidates must challenge conventional Washington thinking.

"My call for a new foreign policy is based on the same thing that informed my opposition to the war in Iraq: common sense, not conventional Washington thinking," Obama said. "I'm running on my judgment and I'll tell the American people where I stand."

Speaking before about 250 people at a Council Bluffs school, Obama said critics have ignored his vow to work cooperatively with Pakistan and that his call for negotiations with hostile foreign leaders was only common sense.

Obama has come under fire from Democratic rivals, including New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Republicans, who accuse him of being naive about foreign policy. They point to recent statements in which Obama has said he would be willing to send U.S. military forces into Pakistan to rout terrorists even without the permission of the Pakistani government and that he was willing to meet with the leaders of rogue nations without preconditions.

"I am not afraid of losing a propaganda battle to a bunch of dictators," Obama said Thursday.

He also said he would always work with Pakistan and simply was stating his commitment to ensure that terrorists not have a safe haven.

Obama argued that extensive foreign policy experience doesn't always lead to good decisions, and he used Vice President Dick Cheney's tenure as an example.

"I think it's time to turn the page on conventional foreign policy thinking," the Illinois senator said. "What they lacked was good judgment."

Obama also blamed the Iraq war on conventional Washington thinking and challenged rivals to a full and open debate over their differences on foreign policy.

He devoted much of his remarks to underscoring his differences with Clinton, including her 2002 vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

"After all, the war in Iraq wasn't cooked up by folks in Council Bluffs," said Obama. "It was authorized by politicians in Washington who said they knew better. And if that's what conventional thinking on foreign policy amounts to, conventional thinking has to change."

In his first term in the Senate, Obama has sought to use his inexperience as an advantage, arguing that Clinton and other candidates are creatures of Washington and not capable of pushing for real change. On Thursday, he again pointed to his new approach to foreign policy.

"Think of what we can achieve together if we change the conventional thinking that's squandering America's reputation in the world," said Obama. "We can have a foreign policy that the American people are proud of and set an example of leadership that inspires not hate, but hope, in forgotten corners of the world."

© 2007 The Associated Press