The Note: Obama's Gamble

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Sen. Barack Obama may like to equate himself with Lebron James, but The Chosen One may actually be envying Barry O'Bomber's jukes this morning. Check out this move: One week after taking on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for not being willing enough to engage in diplomacy, Obama yesterday cut all the way to the right of President Bush by sending a stark warning that he'll send troops into Pakistan to kill terrorists.

This is Obama as tough guy: He'll use military might, not just chat with dictators -- take that, Hillary. It's tough to guard against because it means Obama, D-Ill., is now pressing Clinton from both the left and the right. But if you're confused, you're not alone. And if Obama is piecing together a coherent foreign-policy vision (rather than just responding to the political pressures of the moment) yesterday's address can't be the last word. The speech came off more like the one he had to give than the one he wanted to.

Context -- and timing -- mean perceptions of this speech are colored by last week's feud with Clinton, where Obama's foreign policy appeared far more, shall we say, diplomatic. "Obama outlined strong views on a foreign policy issue at a time when his chief rival in early presidential polling, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), has sought to depict him as naive in international affairs," writes Mike Dorning of the Chicago Tribune.

Obama himself said yesterday's speech was not a pivot from last week's debate and its aftermath. "I'm not so good that I can whip up a speech like this in a week," he told ABC's Jake Tapper last night on "Nightline." "There is no contradiction between us aggressively talking to our enemies, and us acting on behalf of our national interest."

But how to reconcile these two broad Obama visions? Obama clearly wants to shake up the Democratic race, but he runs the risk of becoming a foreign-policy blur if his stances are united by little more than their hostility to the Bush administration. "Whereas Obama's 40-minute speech repositioned him on combating terrorists -- which voters now 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," writes Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times.

Some raves for the speech from the Democratic foreign-policy establishment. But what of the base? "Activists in the state with the first-in-the-nation caucuses are more accustomed to hearing from the Illinois senator about the war he opposed than the one he would be willing to fight," writes Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times, the Iowa paper whose pages were the site of last week's Clinton-Obama fight. The liberal blogosphere is already abuzz about the speech -- MyDD's Jerome Armstrong: "a continuation of the Bush doctrine of unilateral pre-emptive attacks" -- and Obama will hear more from that point of view this weekend at YearlyKos.

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