Obama and Clinton, Round 2?

Obama: Unfriendly governments "will no longer have the excuse of American intransigence."

Published August 1, 2007 6:02PM (EDT)

Initial mainstream media reaction to Barack Obama's terrorism speech today is probably exactly what the campaign wanted it to be: By playing up the candidate's vow to go after al-Qaida in Pakistan -- even if Pervez Musharraf won't -- the media presents us Obama the tough, not Obama the inexperienced.

That said, Obama isn't exactly backing away from the stand that led Hillary Clinton and a sea of Washington talking heads to call him "irresponsible and frankly naive" when it comes to foreign relations. At last month's CNN/YouTube debate, Obama said that as president, he'd be willing to meet with the leaders of Iran and Syria and Cuba and Venezuela without preconditions. In today's speech, he returned to that theme, saying that the lesson of the Bush years is that "not talking" to America's enemies "doesn't work."

"Go down the list of countries we've ignored and see how successful that strategy has been," Obama said. "We haven't talked to Iran, and they continue to build their nuclear program. We haven't talked to Syria, and they continue to support terror. We tried not talking to North Korea, and they now have enough material for six to eight more nuclear weapons."

Obama said it's time to "turn the page on Washington's conventional wisdom that agreement must be reached before you meet, that talking to other countries is some kind of reward, and that presidents can only meet with people who will tell them what they want to hear."

That won't sit well with all those who cluck-clucked over Obama's previous comments, nor will this: In talking about talking to the leaders of unfriendly nations, Obama used an N-word: negotiate. "President Kennedy said it best: 'Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate,'" Obama said.

Of course, President Kennedy didn't exactly "negotiate" with, say, Fidel Castro; Kennedy's administration tried to get Castro killed. Obama seems to have something else in mind: "As president," he said today, "I will work with our friends and allies, but I won't outsource our diplomacy in Tehran to the Europeans, or our diplomacy in Pyongyang to the Chinese. I will do the careful preparation that's needed, and let these countries know where I stand. They will no longer have the excuse of American intransigence, although they will have our terms: no support for terror and no nuclear weapons."

We're waiting to see how the Clinton campaign responds -- to the talking talk or to Obama's new, not-so-veiled attack on Clinton's vote in favor of the resolution authorizing George W. Bush to use military force in Iraq. On that front, Obama complained today that "Congress rubber-stamped the rush to war, giving the president the broad and open-ended authority he uses to this day," and in doing so became the "co-author of a catastrophic war" that should "have never been authorized and should have never been waged."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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