WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama issued a pointed warning Wednesday to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf by saying, as president, he would be prepared to order U.S. troops into that country unilaterally if it failed to act on its own against Islamic extremists.
In his most comprehensive statement on terrorism, the Illinois senator said the Iraq war has left the United States less safe than it was before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and said he would seek to withdraw U.S. troops as president and shift the country’s military focus to threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“When I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won,” he told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center here. “The first step must be to get off the wrong battlefield in Iraq and take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Obama’s warning to Musharraf drew sharp criticism from several of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, but not from New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said she too was prepared to launch raids across the Pakistani border if necessary to pursue terrorist targets.
The muscular speech appeared aimed at inoculating himself from criticism that he lacks the toughness to lead the country in the post-9/11 world, while attempting to show that an Obama presidency would herald a shift in America’s approach to the world, particularly the Middle East.
The speech came a week after Clinton described Obama as “irresponsible and frankly naive” for saying during a Democratic debate that he would be prepared to meet during his first year as president with leaders of rogue nations without preconditions. That set off a days-long argument between the two over diplomacy and the use of the presidency.
Other Democratic candidates took issue with Obama’s tough talk on Pakistan.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, in a telephone interview, said Obama’s threat, if acted upon, could inflame the entire Muslim world. “My international experience tells me that we should address this issue with tough diplomacy first with Musharraf and then leave the military option as a last resort,” he said.