The Note: Obama's Gamble

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.

Few of Obama's rivals expected this particular gamble; how else to explain their varied (and sometimes contradictory) responses? There's Sen. Joe Biden ("Johnny-come-lately," but do it privately, not publicly) and Gov. Bill Richardson ("I am glad that Senator Obama agrees with me"). And there's former senator John Edwards ("maximum" diplomacy -- wait, didn't Obama just say that?) and Sen. Chris Dodd ("dangerous and irresponsible"). Clinton said she agreed, generally: "If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured," she said in an interview with American Urban Radio News Network.

It's hard to imagine Republicans offering many kind words for Obama's plan at Sunday's ABC debate, though, in fairness, President Bush and most Republican candidates would probably have been comfortable with the bulk of what Obama said. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called it "a simplistic view of a very complex situation," and look for more Republicans to make similar points.

Of McCain's own campaign, the AP's Philip Elliott sees signs of his "slide" in the trappings. "His staff drastically reduced and his organization nearly broke, McCain flies commercial instead of on private jets, carries his own luggage and relies on supporters to drive him to events, including one that pulled away from a Rotary meeting last week with a flat rear tire," Elliott writes. "Yet, for all of McCain's woes rival campaigns aren't holding a political death watch just yet."

As for the national Republican front-runner, an interesting look today at what could be a key relationship for former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y.: his two decades of ties to Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News Channel. Ailes was Giuliani's media adviser during his first run for mayor, in 1989, and Giuliani officiated at Ailes' wedding, per The New York Times' Russ Buettner. Coincidence or not, The Hotline found Giuliani receiving more airtime on Fox News this year than any of his rivals. "Whether their friendship would ever affect coverage -- Fox insists that it has not and will not -- it is nonetheless the sort of relationship that other campaigns have noted, though none wanted to speak publicly for fear of offending the station," Buettner writes.

And lest you thought last week's feud was over, it appears the Clinton campaign is polling on the dueling answers from the CNN/YouTube debate. "The poll caller quoted directly the debate responses from Obama and Clinton and then asked me which candidate I agree with," Joe Judge, chairman of the Monroe County Democratic Party, told Iowa Independent. "Most of the position questions asked, actually almost all of them, were about Hillary Clinton and not about the other candidates."

Also in the news:

Feel like you're reading about a few too many Giuliani endorsements? That may be because he's found a novel way to boost his numbers -- recycling! Politico's Jonathan Martin noticed that a press release his campaign sent out this week touting the fact that his support "continues to grow" in central Iowa was true, but only technically: "Of the 19 names on the list of central Iowa backers, all but one had already been released back on June 11th when the campaign unveiled their statewide 'Iowa Leadership Team.' "

Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., took a break from attacking Democrats long enough yesterday to take aim at the Bush administration's bureaucracy, AP's Glen Johnson reports. The Department of Homeland Security, Romney said in New Hampshire, "probably needs to be streamlined," and he included another jab at the president: "The last thing I want is the guys managing the Katrina cleanup managing my health care system."

Columnist Robert Novak examines former senator Fred Thompson's wife, Jeri -- the woman rumored to be behind much of the staffing turmoil that's plagued his pre-campaign. Novak finds her to be "intelligent" and "beautiful" -- and too much of a seasoned political operative to be belittled as a "trophy wife." "The spectacle of Thompson's Republican adversaries demeaning his wife in conversations with journalists suggests how seriously they regard his prospective candidacy," Novak writes. "Jeri Thompson will be at his side as an asset, not a liability."

Reid Wilson of Real Clear Politics handicaps the field for next weekend in Ames. "If flunked, this test will more than likely chase a few contenders from the race for the White House," Wilson writes. Asked about the high expectations for Romney, spokesman Kevin Madden channels his inner high-school football coach: "Worrying is only for people without a plan."

Wired Republicans are trying to save the Sept. 17 CNN/YouTube Republican debate, which is in danger of collapsing because candidates including Romney and Giuliani are shunning it, reports Katharine Q. Seelye of The New York Times. "The candidates' failure to embrace the new format, which the Democrats participated in last week, has prompted a public soul-searching by some of the party's most loyal supporters," Seelye writes. Says conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, "The current old white men running for the GOP already seem from some other planet."

While his rivals spar, Edwards, D-N.C., has been trying to make a campaign issue out of the Bush administration's proposed $20 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. "I believe that Congress's responsibility is to stop the deal," Edwards said in California yesterday, per the target="external"New York Sun's Josh Gerstein. (Know any presidential candidates who are in Congress?) Neither Clinton nor Obama has taken a position on the sale.

Edwards also directed his populist outrage at Republicans. "What Giuliani is, is George Bush on steroids," Edwards said, per Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson. "Giuliani, Romney and the rest of the Republicans running for the nomination are going to give the country four more years of crony capitalism, which is exactly what we have now."

Haven't heard from Howard Dean in a while? It turns out he's been hard at work, behind the scenes. The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports that Dean "is building a sophisticated infrastructure to woo so-called values voters."

Dean is also launching a new state-by-state effort to protect against voter supression, The New York Times reports. "Our candidates need to know how elections work in every single precinct," Dean told the Times' Jacqueline Palank. "That is an enormous advantage when you're going up against a party that is essentially a vote suppressor."

So Democrats got Donald Rumsfeld yesterday, but sorry, no Karl Rove today. (Surely nobody keeps records of these sorts of things, but this has to be a record -- who can keep track of the number of simultaneous stand-offs between the executive and legislative branches? Can't Vice President Dick Cheney -- that member of both branches -- mediate?) "Bush's move sets up a possible court showdown between the White House and Democratic lawmakers, who have also sought to force other Bush aides to testify and demanded documents it says the White House is not releasing," AP reports.

Evil, free-spending Democrats are about to something horrible with taxpayer dollars -- provide health insurance to poor children (!) by raising taxes on cigarettes. Republicans held (mostly) firm in the House yesterday, meaning the president appears to have the votes to sustain his promised veto, but is this really the type of budget battle they want to have with Democrats?

Forget Petraeus: The real Iraq verdict that could change the political equation in Congress could that of Sen. John Warner, R-Va., Bloomberg's Nicholas Johnston reports. "His impact will be all the greater because Warner has been known throughout his three-decade Senate career as an establishment Republican who unflinchingly supports presidents of his party," Johnston writes. If Warner flinches, watch for as many as 20 Republicans to run for his cover.

The kicker:

"It would be amusing if it wasn't such a dumb thought." -- Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, defending House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to allow a vote today on Iraq strategy, even if many Republicans use the vote for political cover.

"If we had that one to do over again we would probably approach it differently." -- Clinton strategist Mark Penn, admitting a rare mistake in how the campaign handled the last dust-up with Obama over David Geffen, in the New York Observer.

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