Washington (AP) – Contending that the U.S. is not pursuing a sound strategy for keeping Americans safe, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama laid out goals Tuesday that he argued would deal with the nation's most pressing threats.
In a major speech on the war, Obama listed ending the war in Iraq responsibly as the top priority. If elected president, he said, he would also finish the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban; secure nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue nations; achieve "true energy security"; and rebuild the nation's alliances.
The speech sets the stage for Obama's upcoming visit to Iraq and offers a high-profile explanation of his opposition to the war and his pledge to complete a U.S. troop pullout within 16 months of becoming president. It also gives him a forum for criticizing President Bush and his rival for the presidency, Republican John McCain.
"By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery at the International Trade Center in Washington. "In fact - as should have been apparent to President Bush and Sen. McCain - the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was."
Obama said the Bush strategy that McCain supports has placed the burden for U.S. foreign policy on American military. National security policy should go well beyond Baghdad, he said, and involve allies around the world. He focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying that if the U.S. were attacked again, it likely would be from the same region where the Sept. 11 attacks were planned.
"Sen. McCain said - just months ago - that Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq. I could not disagree more. Our troops and our NATO allies are performing heroically in Afghanistan, but I have argued for years that we lack the resources to finish the job because of our commitment to Iraq," Obama said.
"As president, I will make the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban the top priority that it should be. This is a war that we have to win," he said.
Later in the day, Obama was expected to conduct a series of television interviews to bolster his remarks.
McCain planned to respond during a town-hall meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., but his staff released his remarks before the event.
"Sen. Obama is departing soon on a trip abroad that will include a fact-finding mission to Iraq and Afghanistan," according to McCain. "And I note that he is speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he has even left, before he has talked to General Petraeus, before he has seen the progress in Iraq, and before he has set foot in Afghanistan for the first time. In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around: First you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy."
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported that the Obama campaign altered its Web site to remove a statement that Bush's surge of troops in Iraq "is not working." Over the weekend, the site was changed to describe an "improved security situation" at the cost of U.S. lives.
Campaign aide Wendy Morigi told the newspaper that Obama is "not softening his criticism of the surge. We regularly update the Web site to reflect changes in current events."
The flurry of activity comes a day after an Obama op-ed piece in the New York Times that called for the additional Afghanistan brigades and argued the U.S. faces a growing threat from a resurgent al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
McCain planned an address Thursday focused on Afghanistan. Nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 14 injured in a militant attack Sunday, the military's highest death toll there in three years.
While he has accused Obama of favoring surrender in Iraq by outlining a troop withdrawal timetable, McCain told reporters on Monday, "I think we need to do whatever is necessary (in Afghanistan) and that could entail more troops."
Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois, has visited Iraq only once and has never been to Afghanistan. He plans to visit both during a trip that will also take him to Jordan and Israel in the Middle East, as well as European capitals in Germany, France and Great Britain.
He will be accompanied on the trip by Sens. Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed. Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, is a Vietnam War veteran, while Reed is a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger. Both have been mentioned as possible Obama vice presidential running mates.
McCain, an Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war, has lambasted Obama for his lack of travel in the region and for not meeting in Iraq with the top U.S. commander, Army Gen. David Petraeus.
Obama has been trumpeting the fact that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said last week his country wants some type of timetable for a withdrawal of American forces included in a deal needed to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year's end.
Bush opposes a withdrawal timetable, arguing it will embolden insurgents and prompt them to lay in wait for a U.S. departure.
Contending that the U.S. is not pursuing a sound strategy for keeping Americans safe, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama laid out goals Tuesday that he argued would deal with the nation's most pressing threats.