Hoping to regain some momentum from perhaps her strongest political asset, her perceived experience, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., delivered a foreign policy speech in Washington, D.C., this afternoon that assailed rival Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as unwise, inexperienced, impulsive and indecisive — in short, a risk to the nation.
Clinton said that Obama "wavers from seeming to believe that mediation and meetings without preconditions can solve some of the world's most intractable problems to advocating rash unilateral military action without cooperation among allies in the most sensitive region of the world."
With a half-dozen retired generals standing behind her, Clinton said she was the only candidate who could restore a U.S. foreign policy that had the right combination of diplomacy and military might.
A sign on the podium proclaimed her election "Strengthening America."
To a packed auditorium at George Washington University, Clinton seemed to imply Obama's lack of foreign policy credentials might mean he'd be a Democratic version of President Bush.
"We've seen the tragic result of having a president who had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy and safeguard our national security," she said. "We can't let that happen again."
Clinton also mocked Obama by implication suggesting he would need a manual to understand the complexities of foreign diplomacy.
"The American people don't have to guess whether I understand the issues or whether I would need a foreign policy instruction manual to guide me through a crisis, or whether I'd have to rely on advisers to introduce me to global affairs," she said.
She directly criticized two facets of Obama's foreign policy proposals from the last year.
On Obama's suggestion he would meet with the leaders of nations hostile to the United States, she said, "We simply cannot legitimize rogue regimes or weaken American prestige by impulsively agreeing to presidential-level talks that have no preconditions. It may sound good … but it doesn't meet the real world test of foreign policy."
She also went after Obama as a reckless poseur for a speech he made last year where he said that with actionable intelligence he would be willing to send U.S. troops into Pakistan to take out high-level al Qaeda targets, with or without permission of the government of Pakistan.
"One thing the American people can be sure of," she said, "I will not broadcast threats of unilateral military action against a country like Pakistan just to demonstrate that I'm tough enough for the job. We have to change our tone and change our course."
With eight days until the critical March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio, Clinton's tone today was measured and somber, even presidential — a contrast to the inconsistent tones marking her campaign appearances as of late.
At a debate Thursday she was effusive and warm toward Obama.
On Saturday, upset about two misleading Obama mailers she said, "Shame on you, Barack Obama!" On Sunday in Rhode Island she mocked Obama's lofty rhetoric with dismissive sarcasm.
After being criticized this morning as "divisive" by the Obama campaign for allegations that her staffers were circulating a photograph of Obama dressed in African garb during a trip to that continent in 2006, Clinton announced plans to meet this afternoon with a convention of members of a predominantly black sorority in Washington, D.C.
Obama addressed the photo in an interview with ABC News radio affiliate WBAP in Fort Worth/Dallas saying it was "silliness."
"The notion that they would try to use this to imply in some way that I'm foreign, I think is, you know, unfortunate," Obama said. "These are the kinds of political tricks and silliness you start seeing at the end of campaigns."
Clinton will head to Ohio on Tuesday morning.
Arlette Saenz and Steve Portnoy contributed to this report.