Senator Barack Obama rebuked Democratic White House rivals who mocked him as naive on foreign policy Tuesday, refusing to accept lessons from those he said invited "disaster" by backing the Iraq war.
Obama defended his statement last week that he would be prepared to order strikes against Al-Qaeda in lawless tribal areas in Pakistan, if President Pervez Musharraf did not act first.
"I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me," Obama said, at the debate in front of union activists in Chicago.
His remarks were a shot especially at Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton who has called Obama's foreign policy "naive" and "irresponsible" and who voted to authorize the Iraq war in October 2002.
"If we have actionable intelligence on Al-Qaeda operatives, including bin Laden, and President Musharraf cannot act, then we should. Now, I think that's just common sense," Obama said.
But Clinton immediately took Obama to task at the debate hosted by the AFL-CIO federation of trade unions.
"I don't believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals," she said, while admitting an attack might be merited on the basis of actionable intelligence.
"I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that, and to destabilize the Musharraf regime which is fighting for its life against the Islamist extremists who are in bed with Al-Qaeda and (the) Taliban."
Obama spoke out against the Iraq war before the US invasion -- though he was not a US senator at the time.
He did not face therefore the high-stakes choice which confronted Clinton, fellow candidates Senator Joseph Biden, Chris Dodd and former senator John Edwards, who were all on stage on Tuesday and all voted in October 2002 to give Bush power to wage war in Iraq.