Clarification to This Article
The description of Sen. Clinton's remarks at George Washington University was updated below to reflect a change made in later editions of the newspaper.

Clinton Compares Obama to Bush

Hillary Rodham Clinton stands with retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark during her introduction at George Washington University.
Hillary Rodham Clinton stands with retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark during her introduction at George Washington University. (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Warning of the foreign policy challenges facing the next president, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday that it is not a time to pick someone who would need "a foreign policy instruction manual" and likened Sen. Barack Obama, her rival for the Democratic nomination, to President Bush.

"We've seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security," Clinton told students at George Washington University. "We cannot let that happen again. America has already taken that chance one time too many."

Clinton's critique of Obama's foreign policy credentials came as she is escalating her attacks in the run-up to primaries on March 4 in Ohio and Texas -- contests that even her husband has called must-wins.

Obama's campaign dismissed the attempt to link him to Bush.

"It's ironic that Hillary Clinton compared Barack Obama to George Bush when she voted to authorize the war in Iraq," said retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, an Obama adviser.

Clinton's speech yesterday, which came on the eve of a Democratic debate in Cleveland that will be the candidates' final face-off before March 4, was part of an effort that the former first lady's advisers say is aimed at "raising the stakes" in the contest. Over the next week, Clinton will seek, in sometimes dark terms, to frame the challenges facing the next president in the hopes that it will reinforce the experience argument that failed to stop Obama from winning 11 straight contests so far.

But the Obama campaign said Clinton's team was also using more nefarious tactics. A picture appeared yesterday morning on the Drudge Report Web site showing Obama in Somali dress during a trip he took to Kenya in 2006 as part of his Senate duties. The site said the image came from the Clinton campaign. Obama aides argued that it was an attempt to draw attention to Obama's race and to a rumor that he is a Muslim. Obama is a Christian.

After Obama campaign manager David Plouffe accused the Clinton team of "shameful, offensive fear-mongering," Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams issued a statement saying that "if Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely."

Williams's statement did not deny that Clinton's team had sent the Web site the picture, although communications director Howard Wolfson said later in the day that he had "no knowledge" of the involvement of campaign aides playing a role in distributing it.

He sought to turn the controversy into an argument that media coverage has been too favorable toward Obama, an argument that Clinton is also making.

During a fundraiser in Boston late Sunday, Clinton referred to a skit on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" that depicted a CNN debate in which questioners fawned over Obama.

"I just have this sense that finally my opponent is getting maybe a little bit of scrutiny," Clinton told about 300 supporters to loud cheers. "How many of you saw 'Saturday Night Live'? . . . That wouldn't have happened just a couple of weeks ago. . . . We have two candidates and we've been focused on one more than the other in terms of asking the hard questions."

At that same fundraiser, Clinton previewed her plan for victory, promising to attack Obama on "issues" including health care and saying: "We're going to emphasize more and more the experience gap." She also indicated that she plans to question the way Obama is conducting his campaign in light of his "new politics" rhetoric. Her aides spent much of the day accusing him of hypocrisy, noting that in Iowa, he criticized John Edwards for allowing independent groups to spend money on advertisements on his behalf, but that his campaign has not criticized labor groups that are now doing the same for him.

Clinton advisers privately acknowledge the challenge of attacking Obama without it reflecting negatively on their candidate, although she has sharpened her tone noticeably since a debate on Thursday, an event that was so mild that Clinton was forced to make clear that she was not conceding the race.

At George Washington University yesterday, she criticized her rival's statements that he would meet leaders of nations such as North Korea without preconditions and that he would consider attacking terrorist sites in Pakistan if its leaders would not cooperate in fighting terrorism.

"He wavers from seeming to believe that mediation and meetings with preconditions solves the world's most intractable problems to advocating rash, unilateral military action," Clinton said.

Obama, who still trails Clinton in most polls in Ohio, spent the day there, laying out his plans to help seniors at a roundtable discussion before rallies in Dayton and Cincinnati. While his aides batted back Clinton's attacks, he looked forward to his possible general election opponent, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), but kept an eye on Clinton.

"Some people are telling you not to believe, because they say 'Those Republicans are going to be tough on Obama,' he told a crowd of more than 11,000 at the University of Cincinnati. "I don't mind having debates with John McCain. I admire, I revere John McCain's service to this country. . . . But he has embraced George Bush's economic policies and tax cuts for the rich, and he said we will stay in Iraq even if it takes 100 years. . . . I want to have that debate."

Staff writer Alec MacGillis contributed to this report.

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