Friday, August 31, 2007

Larry Craig, Tim Johnson and the Quarrel Majority

With the resignation of Republican senator Larry Craig all but certain, we return once again to the question of the U.S. Senate majority. Since their electoral thumpin’ of Republicans last fall, the Democratic majority—and the extent to which it has been able to affect change—has been remarkably tenuous. Democrats aren’t doing celebratory back flips at Craig’s fall from grace because, for all they know, their 51-49 majority may be following him out the door in fifteen months.

South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson’s return to work (after brain surgery and extensive rehabilitation), though a significant personal triumph, cannot be chalked up as a win for Democrats just yet because his ability to perform the demanding duties of public service remains to be seen. Johnson is back—but for how long? Voters will decide whether the senator is spent or if he can continue serving. A Hollywood script would no doubt call for a full recovery and reelection in 2008, but both represent formidable challenges in reality. Sources on Johnson’s health have been tight-lipped as Harry Reid & Co. exude cautious optimism.

The Democrats understandably hope to maintain the status quo, but one must begin to wonder—at what cost? With nearly a tie in the Senate since last November, the advancing of the majority’s agenda has demanded strict party-line voting. Unlike the Republican majority in power under the Clinton administration, Democrats today don’t have much room to vote with conscience; a single naysayer and the whole thing’s out the window.

This has curtailed politicians’ ability to think for themselves and effectively limited Congressional productivity. The $124 billion Iraq spending bill was debated, vetoed, and diluted to the point where timetables for troop withdrawal, the bill’s primary aim, were no longer included. The immigration bill was bungled to such an extreme that this author still lacks a clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding its demise. Is this a majority in name only? Where are the results?

Moreover, is this tooth-and-nail paradigm beneficial to the agenda of either party, or the American people? On a side note, it is not much of a stretch to infer that this us-and-them scenario has contributed to the poisonous climate in Washington to which both parties can and do attest.

Despite their many differences, all of the presidential candidates are talking about big plans for change: significantly reevaluating the situation in Iraq, getting control of our borders and keeping jobs here at home, to name a few. To accomplish any of these goals, we will need more than a new administration in the White House; we will need an effective, focused Congress. Despite the shortcomings of our two main political parties, less than four percent of the voters supported colors other than red and blue in 2006. Read: We want to believe that, between the two of you, you can solve these problems.

Events like sex scandals and life-threatening diseases, while great for front-page headlines, throw a veil over the fact that a small majority is really no majority at all. The next fifteen months will see the end of the current administration and, moreover, the last opportunity for this Senate to justify its current composition.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

HBO's Entourage walks a fine line

Last Sunday evening, my roommate and I promptly tuned in to Entourage at 9:00. With an unspoken eagerness to see what Vincent Chase and his buddies would get themselves into this week, we sat through the whole episode, though I personally felt the show failed to deliver this time around.

I must admit I have gradually become something of a convert to Entourage. Initially I found the bling, the constant Hollywood chip on the shoulder and the narcissistic excesses of the show's characters to be overwhelming, and more importantly, not entertaining. But the characters exude a certain charm that grows on the viewer, which is to HBO's credit; the show has received seven Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Comedy Series. Even though the characters use foul language, indulge their every whim, and seemingly care only for Number One, many people are attracted to the humor, fast-moving plot lines and sense of adventure that consistently define Entourage. Being an HBO presentation, the show can feature content and dialogue that would typically be considered "too hot for TV." In this sense, it enjoys the same protections as Bill Maher, pushing the envelope as far as deemed necessary every week.

The envelope, as it were, was pushed unnecessarily far last week. On their way to the Cannes Film Festival, the group gets hung up at LAX, which is in the middle of a security Code Orange. The viewer can relate to the huge police presence, the delayed flights, the seemingly-arbitrary security colors and the stress of wasting a day at an airport. Apparently, the show's writers felt the viewer could also relate to stereotypes and racial profiling.

Their flight delayed three hours, Turtle and Drama (Jerry Ferrara and Kevin Dillon) are wandering the airport when they spot a man wearing a head covering. Immediately assuming this Muslim-looking gentleman is a potential terrorist, Dillon explains to Ferrara that it would behoove them to befriend him; his rationalization follows that it would be easier to talk with him now than negotiate for their lives at 30,000 feet. (My paraphrasing here is minor.) They take seats next to the man and commence with small talk, only to discover he does not--as stereotype would have it--speak English. Looking confused, the man remains silent--and therefore remains suspect.

Now, it is very difficult to know the show's motives, so caution must be used in judging scenes such as this one. Having watched the show for a couple months, I know with a large degree of certainty that Drama is the least intelligent and least likable character on the show. In other words, we like Vince and Eric so much partly because we don't like Drama. His actions thus often serve as mere fodder for laughs, and this could be no exception. If this is the case, however, the question shifts to the larger genre of comedy entertainment and its role, if any, in achieving (or impeding) social progress. Comics like Chris Rock, who frequently jokes about race, would be part of this larger, very different question.

It is equally difficult to generalize about the show's audience. A starting point, however, is provided in HBO's online Entourage forum.


Perusing through the posts, I reached the conclusion that most people who are discussing the show online are not concerned with larger social issues; the quality of Kanye West's acting in his recent cameo, the brand of sweatshirt Turtle was wearing in the episode, and the attractiveness of female guest stars are given most of the attention. This is not to say the average viewer finds stereotyping and racial profiling to be joking matters, nor that the average viewer's opinion of Islamophobia has been affected in one way or the other. One plausible concern, however, is that scenes such as this help vindicate a certain belief system, a previously-held opinion that, while not originally produced by this TV show, is being nurtured through the company of Drama.

Many would argue that one who objects to such writing should simply cancel one's subscription to HBO. After all, HBO is separate from cable and is theoretically easier to keep away from younger viewers, so what's the harm?

Bill Maher, host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, was once called out by guest Al Sharpton for making homophobic jokes. Sharpton had appeared later on the program for an interview concerning the Don Imus firing, but also took the opportunity to discuss stereotypes Maher had propagated that very day. Scripted shows like Entourage, however, do not have the ability to "self-correct." Despite their common shield of HBO, Maher's obscenity is often mitigated and contextualized by general discourse, while that of Vincent Chase & Co. is not.

One does not need to read the Entourage online fan forum to know that sex, violence and material goods make the biggest impact with viewers. It must be said that shows that cater to these base, albeit human desires should not meddle in more complex social issues unless more room is made for their real, on-screen engagement.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

CNN entertains Bush’s desperate Vietnam comparison

Today:’s story “Bush invokes 'tragedy of Vietnam' against Iraq pullout” is perfectly representative of the type of uncritical, play-along journalism that facilitated the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The article describes Bush’s most recent reframing of the Iraq quagmire, in the form of a Kansas City speech clearly not conceived nor written by the Commander in Chief:

Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields'.

Eloquent, but grossly misleading. Bush and the anonymous CNN journalist both fail to mention the millions of civilians killed by the wars themselves, as the Iraqi civilian death toll approaches seven figures. Both also fail to mention the obvious manipulations of events and evidence to build a case for the wars, with the belligerent though fictitious Vietnamese ship in the Gulf of Tonkin and the weapons of mass destruction and terrorist links that never existed in Iraq. I remember when former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura made this observation, then just out of office, on David Letterman some five years ago. Somehow, however, those elected to represent our interests today just can’t bring themselves to call it what it is. Even in his attempt to criticize the president’s foolish analysis, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid misses the boat as well:

President Bush's attempt to compare the war in Iraq to past military conflicts in East Asia ignores the fundamental difference between the two. Our nation was misled by the Bush administration in an effort to gain support for the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, leading to one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our history.

If Iraq is “one of” our biggest screw-ups, Vietnam is probably the mother of them all. Even though the American death toll is not yet anywhere near the 58,000 killed in Vietnam, there are many more parallels than differences between the two. The “fundamental difference” Reid was searching for seems to be little more than in the scale of the conflicts and the type of terrain on which they were engaged. He only got it half right, which, for the 2006 Democratic majority, is a major success. Furthermore, if the war in Iraq continues for a couple more years, the difference between its impact and that of Vietnam will be innocuous.

And so CNN misses yet another opportunity to think critically about Bush propaganda, instead providing a platform for his faulty analogies to American successes in Japan and South Korea. A black and white photograph of the North Vietnamese taking over the presidential palace in South Vietnam in 1975 is included for good measure.

In the same article, CNN mentions that 72 percent of this nation’s citizens will remain opposed to the war even if General Petraeus’s September report on Iraq is positive. Who is writing this stuff? There’s little wonder the author’s name is not given. Statistically, there is a good chance he or she is not even an American.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lessons we should have learned

Throughout our history two strands have coexisted uneasily; a dominant strand of democratic humanism and a lesser but durable strand of intolerant Puritanism. There has been a tendency through the years for reason and moderation to prevail as long as things are going tolerably well or as long as our problems seem clear and finite and manageable. But... when some event or leader of opinion has aroused the people to a state of high emotion, our puritan spirit has tended to break through, leading us to look at the world through the distorting prism of a harsh and angry moralism.

--J. William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power, 1966

Although Senator Fulbright joined the pack in impeding civil rights in the 1950s—certainly no small flaw in history’s judging eyes—a number of his beliefs were ahead of his time and courageously adherent to the “strand of democratic humanism.” In 1954, he was the only senator to vote against an appropriation for the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Wisconsin senator and communist witch-hunter Joseph R. McCarthy. In 1961, he made serious objections to President Kennedy about military intervention in Cuba before the Bay of Pigs invasion. And, after initially voting in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Fulbright came to be a flip-flopper of the most historically valuable kind, speaking out against the wide and unforeseen latitude given the president and military, the justification for war, Congress’s failures of oversight, and the impulses which spurred action in the first place. John Kerry, eat your heart out. (It was, interestingly, in one of Fulbright’s 1971 Foreign Relations Committee hearings that Kerry, then a Vietnam veteran, spoke out against the war.)

Fulbright was alone in many of his battles, a staunch crusader who did not let peers or popularity force him to stand in line. If Eisenhower had still been president in the 1970s, however, Fulbright would have enjoyed more company.

It was President Eisenhower who provided the initial warning against the rise of the military-industrial complex and the unchecked expansion of the Defense Department. He reminded us:

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

As his career shows, Fulbright shared this cautious approach to the nation’s “military machinery.” He spoke out against the unprecedented amount of power placed in the hands of President Johnson’s military generals, and more widely condemned what he considered was the Defense Department’s brainwashing of the public to accept militaristic, Cold War values.

It appears obvious, despite the prescriptions of these two men, that the military-industrial complex of the United States is larger than it has ever been. I wrote on August 3 of the security firm Blackwater USA, a company that has earned roughly half a billion dollars in controversial government contracts for providing security in Iraq and eight other countries. This company is a revealing lens through which one can observe the intertwining of administrative bureaucracy, military hierarchy and corporate wealth. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the interdependence shared amongst these three entities has served to make contemporary military conflict extraordinarily profitable—and arguably more frequent.

Blackwater Vice President Bill Mathews responded to the posting, placing his company within the context of a larger historical trend of privatization within the army. There is (and always has been), in other words, a large and much-needed role for civilians to fill within the military, particularly in the innovation and implementation of new technologies. His claim:

If our next president is to off-handedly dismiss the American economy from participating the military industrial complex, both the military and the economy will suffer. One of the reasons our country is so great is because our economy propels it forward.

True as it may be, the observation dodges the heart of the issue, which is the military-industrial complex provides huge economic benefits to only a few, at the expense of most U.S. citizens, and makes security as a business an end in itself. His emphasis on the need for a strong economy is not surprising, given how well Blackwater has done financially in the past few years. Notably absent are the real reasons this country is so great: democracy, freedom, the Bill of Rights, and so forth. Furthermore, the connection drawn between the military-industrial complex and the larger American economy is dubious at best; in the past eight years, the former has done well for itself, but the dollar is in a freefalling downward spiral.

With the Cold War over, President Clinton’s election in 1992 saw the gradual downsizing of the American military. Mr. Mathews claims this development created a void that companies like Blackwater, simple participants in the free market, had to fill:

During the 1990s, President Clinton elected to drastically downsize the military. Mind you, at the time, it may have been the right decision for the country that President Clinton made. I don't believe in using 20-20 hindsight to criticize past decisions. However, the situation is now such that all of us who got out in the 1990s are now needed again.

What Mr. Mathews is prescribing in no uncertain terms is a return to a Cold War-level of military preparedness, although in a privatized manner that would surely bankrupt this country. This is as inappropriate as it is unwise. In 1989, the subject of America’s military attention was the Soviet Union. At that time, fully a quarter of the Soviet population (71.7 million people) was engaged in some way in military activities, active or otherwise. Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists—and the country that used to comprise most of it is (technically) our ally. Are we to believe that the destructive potential of al-Qaeda, the people who attacked us on September 11, 2001, is anything like this, or that it has the backing of the world’s second-largest economy? These notions are laughable, and those who benefit from such a fear-mongering conceptualization are laughing all the way to the bank.

Some wish to take us back in time with Cold War ideology and angry moralism in order to perpetuate the “Global War on Terror.” Ike and Fulbright must be rolling over in their graves. Sorry, guys; we should have paid attention.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Be like us or leave

"Whites Now Minority in 1 in 10 Counties"

This article appeared today in the Chicago Tribune, noting that as of 2006 the United States of America is home to 100 million minorities. Lock your doors, Pat Buchanan.

But, as the article reminds us, the anti-immigration movement is not about ethnicity or race. No, skin color has absolutely nothing to do with it, says Greg Letiecq of Help Save Manassas, a Virginia-based anti-immigrant group dedicated to "saving" a town of the same name. (There's also a Save Maryland and a Save Virginia--plenty of damsels in distress, to be sure.) "It's about lawful behavior versus unlawful behavior."

So, all of a sudden, some Americans care a lot about the rule of law. The fact that the majority of Americans break innocous laws all the time, from traffic violations to music pirating, is revealing: we only care about certain laws. In this case, a significant number of Americans are hiding their own prejudices and nativist fears behind the call for law and order.

That these sentiments are the real factors driving the anti-immigrant push is not difficult to detect. White people (read: the establishment), having fled out to the suburbs or to gentrified portions of the inner city, are getting increasingly defensive in the face of growing immigrant populations. The problem is never our ignoble tendencies or racist historical legacies, but them. "It's the folks who come in and try to maintain the culture of the country they came from," Letiecq clarifies. It's not that we have a problem with people who look different from us, just the foods they eat, clothes they wear, language they speak, hell--pretty much everything that makes them different from us white folk. This attitude denigrates and dismisses completely the innumerable contributions immigrants have made to our society. What if Italian immigrants were forced to stop making their silly "pizza" in New York upon their arrival in the 19th century?

It's time to call a spade a spade. This is a diverse country, founded by immigrants and populated by immigrants from all over the world (white people, too). Most of them are people looking for a better life for their families. Law and order and national security are not inherently threatened by the arrival of immigrants. On the contrary, intolerance and bigotry are infinitely more damaging to these ends. Nativists, however, have been pounding the pulpit with this line as long as this nation has existed. It's time to ask ourselves whose argument is more convincing.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Support our mercenaries?

Earlier this summer, I attended a Barack Obama campaign stop in Boone, Iowa with a friend of mine who is working on the campaign. Sharing in his enthusiasm, a feeling of excitement came over me as the man and his entourage stepped out of their black SUV and into the bright sun. With a big smile on his face, Obama slowly made his way up the gravel driveway, taking plenty of time to chat, pose for pictures and sign autographs. Upon reaching the porch of the idyllic farmhouse, the senator launched into a short speech that touched on everything from Illinois grassroots organizing to national security. The latter came to dominate the remainder of the speech and the subsequent question-and-answer session (much as it has today’s national dialogue), and this came as no surprise. What was surprising, though, was that an important and much lesser-known subtopic was brought to the forefront.

A man posed the question: “If elected president, what will you do with regard to Blackwater?” The Iowan was referring of course to the multinational private security firm that has over 48,000 “contractors” in Iraq. I am compelled to define it here because its name and mission have escaped the mainstream media, and its influence has largely gone under the radar. Senator Obama responded flatly that, under his command, only regular United States troops would be employed to fight the “war on terror,” as it were.

The questioner should be commended for simply asking, because most Americans think Blackwater is just a Doobie Brothers song. Unfortunately, it is also the name of what is perhaps the largest embodiment of reckless Bush-era privatization yet seen. According to Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, this entity (and its smaller competitors) consumes 70% of our entire intelligence budget (42 billion American tax dollars yearly) doing what we already pay our army to do: fight our wars and protect powerful individuals in dangerous areas. It thus seems as though, because the introduction of a military draft would have meant the end of the Iraq war, Bush simply circumvented the entire democratic process and let his dollars, er, our dollars, buy some time. Scahill goes on, though, noting that an unprecedented number of Blackwater “contractors” accompanied our troops in the initial invasion of Iraq, a scenario which he argues was Bush’s compensating for the lack of ever having a true coalition in the first place. Blackwater operatives’ deaths are not counted in the official death toll, so they could continue fighting for Mr. Bush (or whomever is in office) indefinitely without the knowledge or consent of Americans, citizen and policymaker alike.

In a recent discussion, a coworker of mine likened the paradigm to medieval feudalism, in which private armies were hired by kings and powerful individuals to fight their enemies. Much like Blackwater, a soldier had allegiance only to the man who paid him, and no one else. That’s all well and good, but isn’t America a democracy?

Although the election is over fifteen months away, each candidate has been talking seriously about terrorism, national security and foreign policy as if he (or she) was going to be elected tomorrow. Obama himself made headlines recently with his surprisingly aggressive stance toward Pakistan and the disorder that has come to characterize its southern tribal region. The statement sparked a debate amongst his Democratic competitors. And why shouldn’t it? After all, nothing but bad news has come out of Iraq and everything this administration has attempted to do has been a failure. The very thought of invading another Middle Eastern, Muslim nation is enough to induce a strong feeling of nausea.

Whoever is elected in November 2008 is charged not only with the task of cleaning up the mess in Iraq (to put it generously), but reevaluating the makeup of this nation’s fighting forces. Blackwater does not represent the will of the American people. Just picture it: unidentified Westerners with guns and helicopters running around shooting and killing with impunity. Meanwhile, polls are interested in finding out “Why do they hate us?” America has gotten in far over its head, and job one is getting out.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Will Mr. Obama Please Lighten Up?!

Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama (our very own senator from Illinois) has been talking about foreign policy lately. He has, in the past been criticized, by both sides on his not to stellar stance on pretty much anything.

So, the Senator from Illinois has decided it is high time that he speak out and has developed a position on…you guessed it: the war on terror. He has gone as far as calling Hilary Clinton’s proposals for the war on terror, “Bush and Cheney Lite”.

Senator Obama’s plan calls for invading Pakistan if needed to seek out the terrorists. He also sent a written warning to the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that he (as president) would not hesitate to engage in a full blown military action to seek out the so-called Islamic extremists.

Senator Obama’s statement doesn’t sit well with me. Why? His language is frighteningly similar to that of President Bush and look at the good it has done for us. We have been looking in Muslim counties for weapons of mass destruction, terrorists, Al-Qaeda and their partners and yet we are still at the same point we were five years ago.

Really, Senator Obama, if you want the Muslim community to like you, maybe you should try thinking of a policy that doesn’t make you look like a war mongering, Muslim hating Bush part two. What do you think?

Obama Says He Would Take Fight To Pakistan

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007; A01

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama issued a pointed warning yesterday to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying that as president he would be prepared to order U.S. troops into that country unilaterally if it failed to act on its own against Islamic extremists.

In his most comprehensive statement on terrorism, the senator from Illinois said that the Iraq war has left the United States less safe than it was before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and that if elected he would seek to withdraw U.S. troops and shift the country's military focus to threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"When I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won," he told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center in the District. He added, "The first step must be to get off the wrong battlefield in Iraq and take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Obama's warning to Musharraf drew sharp criticism from several of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, but not from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

Obama delivered a biting critique of President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq and of the administration's overall strategy for combating terrorism, while seeking to reassure Americans that his long-stated opposition to the Iraq war would not compromise his commitment to defending the country from the threat of Islamic extremists.

The muscular speech appeared aimed at inoculating him from criticism that he lacks the toughness to lead the country in a post-9/11 world, while attempting to show that an Obama presidency would herald an important shift in the United States' approach to the world, particularly the Middle East and nearby Asian nations.

The speech came a week after Clinton described Obama as "irresponsible and frankly naive" for saying during a Democratic debate that he would be prepared to meet during his first year as president with leaders of rogue nations without preconditions. That set off a days-long argument between the two over diplomacy and the use of the presidency.

Obama described Clinton's approach to diplomacy as "Bush-Cheney light." She described that comparison as "silly." Their differences on the issue of dealing with nations such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, however, appear not to be significant. Both favor a much more energetic and open diplomatic strategy than they say Bush has followed.

Much of Obama's speech yesterday focused on steps designed to reinvigorate U.S. diplomatic efforts to combat terrorism, but the most noteworthy proposals dealt with military actions. Obama said he would deploy at least two more brigades -- about 7,000 troops -- to Afghanistan to combat what he said is the growing Taliban influence there while sending the Afghan government an additional $1 billion in nonmilitary aid.

But he said he would tie U.S. military aid to Pakistan to that country's success in closing down terrorist training camps, in blocking the Taliban from using its territory as a staging ground for attacks on Afghanistan and in getting rid of foreign fighters.

"There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans," he said. "They are plotting to strike again. . . . If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."

Obama offered no direct criticism of his leading rival for the Democratic nomination, but he indirectly rebuked Clinton and other Democrats who voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing the war. "With that vote, Congress became co-author of a catastrophic war," he said.

Clinton did not respond yesterday to the issue of her Iraq vote, but she sought to show her toughness on dealing with terrorist threats without endorsing the idea of raids into Pakistan. In an interview with American Urban Radio News Networks, she said that if there were actionable intelligence showing Osama bin Laden or other prominent terrorist leaders in Pakistan, "I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured." She also said she long has favored sending more troops to Afghanistan.

Other Democratic candidates took issue with Obama's tough talk on Pakistan.

"It is dangerous and irresponsible to leave even the impression the United States would needlessly and publicly provoke a nuclear power," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) said in a statement.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, in a telephone interview, said that Obama's threat, if acted upon, could inflame the entire Muslim world. "My international experience tells me that we should address this issue with tough diplomacy first with Musharraf and then leave the military option as a last resort," he said.

Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) said in a statement that he would first apply "maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on states like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia" to do their utmost to combat the spread of terrorism. He also challenged both Obama and Clinton to block a proposed U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called Obama's threat misguided. "The way to deal with it is not to announce it, but to do it," Biden said at the National Press Club. "The last thing you want to do is telegraph to the folks in Pakistan that we are about to violate their sovereignty."

Obama said opposition to the war in Iraq should not lead Americans to turn their backs on threats of terrorism. "The terrorists are at war with us," he said. "The threat is from violent extremists who are a small minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, but the threat is real."

Beyond military measures aimed at defeating al-Qaeda, Obama outlined a series of other initiatives he would pursue to combat those threats. He repeated an earlier pledge to double U.S. foreign aid to $50 billion, said he would provide $2 billion to combat the influence of Islamic schools known as madrassas and launch a more ambitious public diplomacy initiative, which he promised to steer.

"As president, I will lead this effort," he said. "In the first 100 days of my administration, I will travel to a major Islamic forum and deliver an address to redefine our struggle."

Obama also called for additional steps to protect the homeland from possible attack and a reassertion of American values, promising to prohibit torture "without exception," close the terrorist prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and ensure that all intelligence gathering is done within the letter of the law.

Rekindling last week's debate with Clinton, Obama said he would bring a new approach to diplomacy. "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."