WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said yesterday that the United States should reserve the right to invade the territory of its Pakistani ally and withdraw U.S. financial aid if it believes Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is failing to do enough to stop terrorists.
"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will," Obama said at the Woodrow Wilson Center here. "I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America."
Obama laid out other steps aimed at combating terrorism. He said that while drawing down U.S. troops in Iraq, he would add at least two brigades to Afghanistan - about 5,000 troops - and increase nonmilitary aid to the country to $3 billion, an increase of $1 billion.
The first-term Illinois senator has highlighted his long-standing opposition to the Iraq war and his desire to end combat operations there, but he faces a challenge in trying to show voters that he has the experience and temperament to be commander in chief.
In recent days, his leading rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, has called Obama's declared willingness to meet without precondition with leaders of adversary nations such as Iran and Syria "irresponsible and naive."
Obama's 40-minute speech yesterday repositioned him on combating terrorists - which voters identify as their top concern - it also opened him up to potential criticism from liberal Democrats who have provided much of his primary-season support.
"For progressive Democrats who want a more peaceful leadership in the world shown by our next president, [Obama's speech] fails the threshold of getting us out of picking fights in the Mideast and discarding the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive attacks," Jerome Armstrong, an influential liberal blogger, wrote shortly after the speech.
Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of Rothenberg Political Report, said Obama previously had emphasized his opposition to the "unilateralism" of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
"It's tough to criticize the Bush administration for unilateralism in Iraq, then say you'd be unilateral in Pakistan," he said. "I'm wondering if some people are going to jump on him."
Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times.