Earlier today, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) laid out his strategy to fight terrorism in an address at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. First he spoke about the morning of September 11, 2001, “What we saw that morning forced us to recognize that in a new world of threats, we are no longer protected by our own power. And what we saw that morning was a challenge to a new generation. The history of America is one of tragedy turned into triumph. And so a war over secession became an opportunity to set the captives free. An attack on Pearl Harbor led to a wave of freedom rolling across the Atlantic and Pacific. An Iron Curtain was punctured by democratic values, new institutions at home, and strong international partnerships abroad.”

He then discussed America’s new calling after that day. “After 9/11, our calling was to write a new chapter in the American story. To devise new strategies and build new alliances, to secure our homeland and safeguard our values, and to serve a just cause abroad. We were ready. Americans were united. Friends around the world stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We had the might and moral-suasion that was the legacy of generations of Americans. The tide of history seemed poised to turn, once again, toward hope.” Obama believes that America soon got off course. “We did not finish the job against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We did not develop new capabilities to defeat a new enemy, or launch a comprehensive strategy to dry up the terrorists’ base of support. We did not reaffirm our basic values, or secure our homeland.”

”Instead, we got a color-coded politics of fear. Patriotism as the possession of one political party. The diplomacy of refusing to talk to other countries. A rigid 20th century ideology that insisted that the 21st century’s stateless terrorism could be defeated through the invasion and occupation of a state. A deliberate strategy to misrepresent 9/11 to sell a war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.” He talked about his early opposition to the Iraq war, and the president’s determination to go to war. “The political winds were blowing in a different direction. The President was determined to go to war. There was just one obstacle: the U.S. Congress. Nine days after I spoke, that obstacle was removed. Congress rubber-stamped the rush to war, giving the President the broad and open-ended authority he uses to this day. With that vote, Congress became co-author of a catastrophic war,” the Senator said.

He also criticized President Bush for trying to link al-Qaeda and Iraq, “The President would have us believe that every bomb in Baghdad is part of al Qaeda’s war against us, not an Iraqi civil war. He elevates al Qaeda in Iraq – which didn’t exist before our invasion – and overlooks the people who hit us on 9/11, who are training new recruits in Pakistan. He lumps together groups with very different goals: al Qaeda and Iran, Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. He confuses our mission. And worse – he is fighting the war the terrorists want us to fight. Bin Ladin and his allies know they cannot defeat us on the field of battle or in a genuine battle of ideas.”

Obama then laid out the five points of his anti-terror strategy. “When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world’s most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.” Obama said that ending the war in Iraq would allow the U.S. to concentrate of Afghanistan. He also promised not to ignore Afghanistan, and called for more international troops there.

The most controversial part of Obama’s speech was certainly his promise to go into Pakistan to hunt terrorists with out the Pakistani government’s permission. “As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.”

“I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear.  There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will,” Obama said.

The rest of Obama’s address was in step with the Democratic Party line. He called for a redesigned military that is trained to combat terrorism. He called for strengthened intelligence, and better international sharing of intelligence, plus the safeguarding of nuclear weapons to keep them out of terrorist hands.

However, Obama did talk about a program of public diplomacy. “I will also launch a program of public diplomacy that is a coordinated effort across my Administration, not a small group of political officials at the State Department explaining a misguided war. We will open “America Houses” in cities across the Islamic world, with Internet, libraries, English lessons, stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country, and vocational programs. Through a new “America’s Voice Corps” we will recruit, train, and send out into the field talented young Americans who can speak with – and listen to – the people who today hear about us only from our enemies.”

Obama discussed closing GITMO and ending the domestic spying abuses of the Bush administration. He also wants to make the Department of Homeland Security more accountable, and use their resources where they are most needed. “Too often this Administration’s approach to homeland security has been to scatter money around and avoid hard choices, or to scare Americans without telling them what to be scared of, or what to do. A Department set up to make Americans feel safer didn’t even show up when bodies drifted through the streets in New Orleans. That’s not acceptable.”

He continued, “We have to put resources where our infrastructure is most vulnerable. That means tough and permanent standards for securing our chemical plants. Improving our capability to screen cargo and investing in safeguards that will prevent the disruption of our ports. And making sure our energy sector – our refineries and pipelines and power grids – is protected so that terrorists cannot cripple our economy.” 

Sen. Obama concluded by saying, “To make this story reality, it’s going to take Americans coming together and changing the fundamental direction of this country. It’s going to take the service of a new generation of young people. It’s going to take facing tragedy head-on and turning it into the next generation’s triumph. That is a challenge that I welcome. Because when we do make that change, we’ll do more than win a war – we’ll live up to that calling to make America, and the world, safer, freer, and more hopeful than we found it.” 

This is an address that was designed to counter the Clinton argument that Obama is naïve on foreign policy. The problem for the Obama camp is that saying you would send the U.S. in to Pakistan to hunt terrorists is naïve. It shows a lack of understanding of the unstable domestic political situation in that nation.

If the U.S. went into Pakistan without Pakistani permission, it could destabilize the Musharraf, and lead to the creation of another extremist Islamic state. Musharraf is already teetering, and doing what Obama suggests could topple him. Also, does Obama realize that by opening “America Houses,” he may be creating a target for terrorists? This is one of those great ideas on paper, but I don’t know if he understands the possible unintended consequences. Overall, this was a decent speech for Sen. Obama, but I don’t think he convinced any of his doubters on foreign policy today.

Full Text of the Obama address 

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

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse

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