In a major policy address given at DePaul University today, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) called for a new beginning in American foreign policy. Obama also promised that as president he will seek to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Obama started his speech by reaffirming his anti-war stance. “Five years ago today, I was asked to speak at a rally against going to war in Iraq. The vote to authorize the war in Congress was less than ten days away and I was a candidate for the United States Senate. Some friends of mine advised me to keep quiet. Going to war in Iraq, they pointed out, was popular. All the other major candidates were supporting the war at the time. If the war goes well, they said, you’ll have thrown your political career away. But I didn’t see how Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat. I was convinced that a war would distract us from Afghanistan and the real threat from al Qaeda.”

He then tried to distinguish himself from what he referred to as the “conventional thinking” in Washington. “For us, the war defied common sense. After all, the people who hit us on 9/11 were in Afghanistan, not Iraq. But the conventional thinking in Washington has a way of buying into stories that make political sense even if they don’t make practical sense. We were told that the only way to prevent Iraq from getting nuclear weapons was with military force. Some leading Democrats echoed the Administration’s erroneous line that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. We were counseled by some of the most experienced voices in Washington that the only way for Democrats to look tough was to talk, act and vote like a Republican.”

Obama also took a subtle dig at Hillary Clinton’s voting for the war. “Some seek to rewrite history. They argue that they weren’t really voting for war, they were voting for inspectors, or for diplomacy. 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?”

He also criticized the Clinton stand on the value of experience.  “And the conventional thinking today is just as entrenched as it was in 2002. This is the conventional thinking that measures experience only by the years you’ve been in Washington, not by your time spent serving in the wider world. This is the conventional thinking that has turned against the war, but not against the habits that got us into the war in the first place – the outdated assumptions and the refusal to talk openly to the American people. Well I’m not running for President to conform to Washington’s conventional thinking – I’m running to challenge it. I’m not running to join the kind of Washington groupthink that led us to war in Iraq – I’m running to change our politics and our policy so we can leave the world a better place than our generation has found it.”

“We need to question the world around us. When we have a debate about experience, we can’t just debate who has the most experience scoring political points. When we have a debate about experience, we can’t just talk about who fought yesterday’s battles – we have to focus on who can face the challenges and seize the opportunities of tomorrow. Because no matter what we think about George Bush, he’s going to be gone in January 2009. He’s not on the ballot. This election is about ending the Iraq War, but even more it’s about moving beyond it,” Obama said.

Obama then laid out his foreign policy vision for the future. “The first thing we have to do is end this war. And the right person to end it is someone who had the judgment to oppose it from the beginning. There is no military solution in Iraq, and there never was. I will begin to remove our troops from Iraq immediately. I will remove one or two brigades a month, and get all of our combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months. The only troops I will keep in Iraq will perform the limited missions of protecting our diplomats and carrying out targeted strikes on al Qaeda…But it’s also time to learn the lessons of Iraq. We’re not going to defeat the threats of the 21st century on a conventional battlefield. We cannot win a fight for hearts and minds when we outsource critical missions to unaccountable contractors. We’re not going to win a battle of ideas with bullets alone.”

Obama also called for a change in U.S. nuclear policy. “We need to change our nuclear policy and our posture, which is still focused on deterring the Soviet Union – a country that doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, India and Pakistan and North Korea have joined the club of nuclear-armed nations, and Iran is knocking on the door. More nuclear weapons and more nuclear-armed nations mean more danger to us all. Here’s what I’ll say as President: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons.”

He continued, “We will not pursue unilateral disarmament. As long as nuclear weapons exist, we’ll retain a strong nuclear deterrent. But we’ll keep our commitment under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty on the long road towards eliminating nuclear weapons. We’ll work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert, and to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material. We’ll start by seeking a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons. And we’ll set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global.”

He renewed his call for a new era in American diplomacy. “To signal the dawn of that era, we need a President who is willing to talk to all nations, friend and foe. I’m not afraid that America will lose a propaganda battle with a petty tyrant – we need to go before the world and win those battles. If we take the attitude that the President just parachutes in for a photo-op after an agreement has already been reached, then we’re only going to reach agreements with our friends. That’s not the way to protect the American people. That’s not the way to advance our interests…It is time to offer the world a message of hope to counter the prophets of hate.”

“In the 21st century, we cannot stand up before the world and say that there’s one set of rules for America and another for everyone else. To lead the world, we must lead by example. We must be willing to acknowledge our failings, not just trumpet our victories. And when I’m President, we’ll reject torture – without exception or equivocation; we’ll close Guantanamo; we’ll be the country that credibly tells the dissidents in the prison camps around the world that America is your voice, America is your dream, America is your light of justice,” he said.

Obama continued to try to distinguish himself from Clinton. “It is time to change our politics. We don’t need another President who puts politics and loyalty over candor. We don’t need another President who thinks big but doesn’t feel the need to tell the American people what they think. We don’t need another President who shuts the door on the American people when they make policy. The American people are not the problem in this country – they are the answer. And it’s time we had a President who acted like that.”

Obama concluded by saying, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we were ready to move past the fights of the 1960s and the 1990s. I wouldn’t be here if, time and again, the torch had not been passed to a new generation – to unite this country at home, to show a new face of this country to the world. I’m running for the presidency of the United States of America so that together we can do the hard work to seek a new dawn of peace and prosperity for our children, and for the children of the world.”

Once again, this was a good speech for Obama. His campaign deserves credit for trying to the highlight the differences between themselves and Clinton, but the problem for Obama still remains that Democratic voters seem to be leaning towards the safe and known choice. Obama’s campaign is still more about tone than substance. He is selling a vision, not policies.

I find Obama’s criticism of Washington insiders a bit humorous because he tends to forget that he also is a U.S. Senator, and thus to some degree, a Washington insider. Obama is running a change based image campaign, but he still has yet to strike a chord with voters to the point where they would consider supporting him over Clinton. I think it will take a win in Iowa for Obama’s message to have a chance of breaking through.

Full text of Obama’s speech 

Jason Easley is the politics editor at www.411mania.com/politics His column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Jason is also the host of TPU Radio, which can be heard at www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse every Sunday morning at 11 AM ET.

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