"It is tempting any time things seem quieter for a minute on the international front to think that we don't need a president who is up to speed on foreign affairs and military matters," Clinton said.
"Well, that's the kind of logic that got us George Bush in the first place," she said to laughter from her friendly audience at a high school auditorium. "Experience in foreign affairs is critical for ending the war in Iraq, averting war in Iran, negotiating a Middle East peace and dealing with North Korea."
Clinton's advisers described her speech two weeks before the Iowa caucuses as a closing argument against top rivals and , as well as Republican candidates with little international experience. Obama has served three years in the Senate, while Edwards served one six-year term, yet both are running head-to-head with Clinton in Iowa, arguing that the country needs a new direction.
Clinton was accompanied by military and diplomatic leaders from her husband's administration, and they spent 30 minutes lauding her experience around the world.
"It is one thing to say that we need leadership, it's another to have the experience," said former Army and Veterans Affairs Secretary Togo D. West.
Clinton never mentioned her rivals by name, but she was apparently referring to Obama when she said she plans diplomatic efforts with Iran to avoid war. "I don't mean that the president sits down with these leaders - that's not smart," she said. Obama had said that he would be willing to negotiate with leaders of Iran and other unfriendly nations in the first year of his presidency.
Later in a question-and-answer session, retiree Max Higgason of Eldora, Iowa, said he was leaning toward Edwards because he liked his focus decrying "Two Americas" for the rich and poor. Clinton responded that she had been working on poverty in America from her time at the Children's Defense Fund after graduating law school to her recent effort in the Senate to increase the minimum wage.
"I'm not just giving speeches on this, I've been working on it for 35 years," she said. "I think it's really important that you look at what we have actually done, not what we say or what we tell you we hope to do, because the best way to determine who can actually deliver change for America is by looking at who has already done it."
Higgason said afterward that Clinton's argument was persuasive and he would probably caucus for her, even though he backed Edwards in 2004.
"I think possibly she has more experience in the international than what Edwards has," Higgason said. "I think Edwards' heart is in the right place. But I feel like a lot of them, she probably would be able to take off quicker from the start."