Obama, marking the fifth anniversary of his speech opposing the Iraq War, delivered his strongest attack yet on Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy and outlined a vision that promises to be a break from the Washington foreign policy consensus.
Though he doesn’t mention her by name, Obama specifically counters Clinton’s argument that when she voted for the Iraq War, she was really voting for inspections:
His overarching point is that this is not just President Bush’s war, but it is a war rooted in “conventional Washington thinking,” and again, without directly mentioning her, he is saying that electing Hillary will only represent a continuation of the Bush-Clinton-Bush foreign policy. He fires back at those who attacked him for foreign policy statements during the campaign:
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.
So there is a choice that has emerged in this campaign, one that the American people need to understand. They should ask themselves: who got the single most important foreign policy decision since the end of the Cold War right, and who got it wrong. This is not just a matter of debating the past. It’s about who has the best judgment to make the critical decisions of the future. Because you might think that Washington would learn from Iraq. But we’ve seen in this campaign just how bent out of shape Washington gets when you challenge its assumptions.
When I said that as President I would lead direct diplomacy with our adversaries, I was called naïve and irresponsible. But how are we going to turn the page on the failed Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to our adversaries if we don’t have a President who will lead that diplomacy?
When I said that we should take out high-level terrorists like Osama bin Laden if we have actionable intelligence about their whereabouts, I was lectured by legions of Iraq War supporters. They said we can’t take out bin Laden if the country he’s hiding in won’t. A few weeks later, the co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission – Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton – agreed with my position. But few in Washington seemed to notice.
The last line being a clear hit on Hillary Clinton’s calculating nature and inability to take a clear stand on anything. I’m tied up with another project right now, so I don’t have time to go through the speech and analyze all of his proposals from a policy perspective. But from a political perspective (at least within the context of the Democratic primary) I think this is a very effective speech. The hard-hitting tone is a contrast from months of acting trigger shy, and he really needed to paint Hillary as representing more of the same. Rather than being defensive or excessively cautious about his proposals, Obama is now getting a lot bolder, which is crucial for somebody running as a change agent, especially somebody who is so far behind. To be sure, Hillary has opened up a huge lead in national polls, and most state polls save Iowa. Obama still has his work cut out for him. But this is exactly what he needs to be doing. And he sure has the money to get his message out.