WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday criticized the Bush administration for failing to protect the American people from weapons of mass destruction, and said he would take aggressive measures as president to lessen the threat from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and from cyber terrorism.
Obama unveiled what he described as a comprehensive national security strategy in a speech at Purdue University, while leading a panel of academic experts and present and former politicians whose view of global threats largely tracked his own.
The presumptive Democratic nominee for president also released a nine-page document on the subject of “Confronting 21st Century Threats,” in which his campaign said the White House, Congress and some American allies have succumbed to a mind-set of “conventional thinking (that) has failed to adapt to a world of new threats.”
“The danger … is that we are constantly fighting the last war, responding to the threats that have come to fruition, instead of staying one step ahead of the threats of the 21st century,” Obama said.
He was joined in the panel discussion by two potential running mates, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., who has spent much of his political career lobbying for more safeguards against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials.
Some of the initiatives described in Obama’s comments and in a detailed position paper were characterized by some current and former U.S. counter-terrorism officials and experts as being extremely expensive, unrealistic or already under way.
“It sounds good on paper, but I get the sense that this is being put out to shore up his national security credentials,” said Art Keller, a CIA expert on weapons of mass destruction proliferation until 2006. “This would take a serious investment of time and money and a major diplomatic effort. It’s like saying everyone should eat well; it’s not going to happen necessarily, and it’s easier said than done.”
The Obama campaign acknowledged some of the criticisms, but Obama said, “We’re spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. For that amount of money that we’re spending in Iraq in one month, if that same amount of money were spent over the course of the next four years, we could lock up all the loose nuclear material.”
Obama has spent the past two days talking at length about national security issues, as part of a campaign push to challenge public perceptions that he wouldn’t make as strong a commander-in-chief as his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.
Many of the new proposals unveiled Wednesday focused on the need to reduce the dangers of nuclear terrorism.
Obama, for instance, pledged to increase U.S. funding by $1 billion a year to more aggressively secure nuclear weapons materials, and to strengthen policing and interdiction efforts aimed at dismantling nuclear trafficking networks. He also vowed to convene a summit on preventing nuclear terrorism and set the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.
The Illinois senator also pledged to invest $5 billion over three years to improve cooperation between U.S. and allied intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and to expand an existing “bioforensics” program to track the sources of biological weapons.
And Obama pledged to “harden our nation’s cyber infrastructure” to better protect against hackers and terrorists using the nation’s computer networks to commit terrorist attacks or other crimes.