From CBS News' John Bentley
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Calling the war in Iraq the product of a "failed ideology" and a "fundamentally flawed political strategy," Barack Obama sought to outline a clear differentiation between not only himself and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, but Republican nominee John McCain as well.
"The way to win a debate with John McCain is not to talk, and act, and vote like him on national security, because then we all lose," said Obama. "The way to win that debate and to keep America safe is to offer a clear contrast, and that's what I will do when I am the nominee of the Democratic Party – because since before this war in Iraq began, I have made different judgments, I have a different vision, and I will offer a clean break from the failed policies and politics of the past."
Obama also hammered McCain for misstatements he made Tuesday while in Amman, Jordan. "Just yesterday, we heard Senator McCain confuse Sunni and Shiite, Iran and al Qaeda," Obama said, to applause from the invitation-only crowd containing several military officers. "Maybe that is why he completely fails to understand that the war in Iraq has done more to embolden America's enemies than any strategic choice that we have made in decades."
Repeating his assertion that he will immediately begin withdrawing troops from Iraq as soon as he takes office, his plan is to remove one to two brigades a month, which would have all troops out of Iraq in 16 months. "After this redeployment, we will leave enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and diplomats, and a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy," he said. "What I propose is not – and never has been – a precipitous drawdown."
Stabilizing Iraq, according to Obama, will require the Iraqis taking a bigger role in running their own country. "It is precisely this kind of approach – an approach that puts the onus on the Iraqis, and that relies on more than just military power – that is needed to stabilize Iraq," he said.
The focus of America's military might should be shifted to other countries, namely Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Obama, who advocated sending two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan. He also said he would send an additional $1 billion in non-military assistance to Afghanistan, "aid that is focused on reaching ordinary Afghans." As for Pakistan, Obama voiced his support for the Pakistani people, but said that democracy must be restored there.
Obama closed his speech by addressing his statements about meeting with leaders of other countries hostile to America. "Once again, Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, and President Bush have made the same arguments against my position on diplomacy, as if reading from the same political playbook. They say I'll be penciling the world's dictators on to my social calendar," he said. "But just as they are misrepresenting my position, they are mistaken in standing up for a policy of not talking that is not working. What I've said is that we cannot seize opportunities to resolve our problems unless we create them. That is what Kennedy did with Khrushchev; what Nixon did with Mao; what Reagan did with Gorbachev. And that is what I will do as President of the United States."
Clinton has been critical of Obama's willingness to meet with foreign leaders of non-democratic countries, saying that those meeting should not occur if significant changes don't happen in those countries.
UPDATE: John McCain's campaign said Obama "mischaracterizes" his position on Iraq. "John McCain wants American forces to come home when our clear and serious interests at stake in Iraq, which nearly 4,000 Americans have given their lives to secure, are truly safe, when al Qaeda is defeated; Iran's influence is contained, and the potential for a truly cataclysmic civil war in Iraq is remote," said Mark Salter, a senior adviser for the McCain campaign. "That, I think, is what is called 'making us safer.' Senator Obama's plan, if it can be charitably described as one, would do the reverse."