The Illinois senator warned Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that he must do more to shut down terrorist operations in his country and evict foreign fighters under an Obama presidency, or Pakistan will risk a U.S. troop invasion and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid.
"Let me make this clear," Obama said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."
Obama's speech comes the week after his rivalry with New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton erupted into a public fight over their diplomatic intentions.
Obama said he would be willing to meet leaders of rogue states like Cuba, North Korea and Iran without conditions, an idea that Clinton criticized as irresponsible and naive. Obama responded by using the same words to describe Clinton's vote to authorize the Iraq war and called her "Bush-Cheney lite."
Asked how he will fight back against allegations that he is inexperienced when he is, in fact, coming into the race without a lot of experience on a national level, Obama told CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson: "I'm less concerned with fighting images. I'm concerned about getting policy right."
The big question is whether such tough talk and policy speeches are enough to make Americans elect a relative novice, reports Attkisson. In a new national poll, Hillary Clinton widened her lead over Obama, with voters citing experience as one of her best attributes.
Obama's comments touched on an area of growing concern among members of both parties and the national security establishment about the resurgence of al Qaeda's organization in Pakistan, reports CBSNews.com senior political editor Vaughn Ververs. Obama will likely be criticized by some for threatening to send troops into a nuclear-armed Muslim nation without its cooperation. But the tough talk highlights the growing concern about al Qaeda's growing threat to the U.S. homeland and puts Obama out in front of a popular goal — capturing or killing the terrorist group's leadership.
Thousands of Taliban fighters are based in Pakistan's vast and jagged mountains, where they can pass into Afghanistan, train for suicide operations and find refuge from local tribesmen. Intelligence experts warn that al Qaeda could be rebuilding to mount another attack on the United States.
Musharraf has been a key ally of Washington in fighting terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but has faced accusations from some quarters in Pakistan of being too closely tied to America.
The Bush administration has supported Musharraf and stressed the need to cooperate with Pakistan, but lately administration officials have suggested the possibility of military strikes to deal with al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
Analysts say an invasion could risk destabilizing Pakistan, breeding more militancy and undermining Musharraf. The Pakistani Foreign Office, protective of its national sovereignty, has warned that U.S. military action would violate international law and be deeply resented.
A military invasion could be risky, given Pakistan's hostile terrain and the suspicion of its warrior-minded tribesmen against uninvited outsiders.
Congress passed legislation Friday that would tie aid from the United States to Islamabad's efforts to stop al Qaeda and the Taliban from operating in its territory. President Bush has yet to sign it.
Obama's speech was a condemnation of President Bush's leadership in the war on terror. He said the focus on Iraq has left Americans in more danger than before Sept. 11, and that Bush has misrepresented the enemy as Iraqis who are fighting a civil war instead of the terrorists responsible for the attacks six years ago.
"He confuses our mission," Obama said, then he spread responsibility to lawmakers like Clinton who voted for the invasion. "By refusing to end the war in Iraq, President Bush is giving the terrorists what they really want, and what the Congress voted to give them in 2002: a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences."
Obama said that as commander in chief he would remove troops from Iraq and putting them "on the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan." He said he would send at least two more brigades to Afghanistan and increase nonmilitary aid to the country by $1 billion.
He also said he would create a three-year, $5 billion program to share intelligence with allies worldwide to take out terrorist networks from Indonesia to Africa.