Obama Revisits Key Antiwar Speech

The nation was
The nation was "failed by much of Washington," said Barack Obama. (By Charlie Neibergall -- Associated Press)
By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

CORALVILLE, Iowa, Oct. 2 -- Seeking to recharge his campaign for the autumn stretch run, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Tuesday used the fifth anniversary of his 2002 speech against going to war in Iraq to issue some of his strongest criticism yet of the war votes cast by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and other Democratic presidential candidates.

In a hotel ballroom packed with more than 1,000 people in this Iowa City suburb, Obama invoked the 2002 speech Tuesday night as proof that he possesses superior judgment, even if he lacks extensive experience in Washington.

"The American people weren't just failed by a president -- they were failed by much of Washington," Obama said. "By a media that too often reported spin instead of facts. By a foreign policy elite that largely boarded the bandwagon for war. And most of all by the majority of a Congress -- a coequal branch of government -- that voted to give the president the open-ended authority to wage war that he uses to this day. Let's be clear: Without that vote, there would be no war."

He delivered the same speech earlier in the day, at DePaul University in Chicago and in Des Moines.

At each stop, Obama did not mention Clinton by name but took implicit aim at her claim that her vote in support of the war resolution was intended only to give President Bush more authority to seek weapons inspections in Iraq, and that she did not foresee how Bush would use it.

"Some seek to rewrite history. They argue that they weren't really voting for war, they were voting for inspectors, or for diplomacy," Obama said. "But the Congress, the administration, the media and the American people all understood what we were debating in the fall of 2002. This was a vote about whether or not to go to war. That's the truth as we all understood it then, and as we need to understand it now. And we need to ask those who voted for the war: How can you give the president a blank check and then act surprised when he cashes it?"

In his 2002 speech at a Chicago rally, given while he was a state senator, Obama warned of the unforeseen consequences of invading Iraq, saying: "I don't oppose all wars. . . . What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war."

So far, though, his campaign has struggled to capitalize on his war stance. Clinton has resisted apologizing for her vote and blurred her differences with Obama, who has generally voted similarly on Iraq-related measures since he joined the Senate in 2005. Polls show that Democratic voters who want the war to end prefer her to get that job done.

The Clinton campaign dismissed Obama's criticisms as a rehash. "We believe voters are focused on the future and on ending the war in Iraq," said Clinton spokesman Phil Singer.

Another candidate, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), argued that Obama's charges contradicted his statement before the 2004 Democratic presidential convention that he did not fault John F. Kerry and John Edwards for their votes in favor of the war resolution because he did not know what intelligence they had access to.

Obama rejected any contradiction Tuesday, saying in an interview with CNN that in 2004 he was simply avoiding criticism of his party's nominees.

Edwards, who has since apologized for his war vote, also took aim Tuesday at Obama, criticizing him for failing to follow up on his war opposition while in the Senate. "Senator Obama likes to talk about his speech on Iraq years ago," said Edwards spokeswoman Colleen Murray, "but the truth is he did support past funding requests that only helped prolong this war."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company