PORTSMOUTH, N.H.-Barack Obama surrounded himself with blue bunting, American flags and foreign affairs luminaries at a public forum Tuesday that brought the atmosphere of a Washington policy seminar to the early-primary state of New Hampshire.
With panels of foreign policy heavyweights preceding Obama's appearance with praise for his foreign policy abilities, the event allowed the freshman senator to showcase his veteran policy team and demonstrate he had gained the confidence of seasoned professionals in the area. It clearly was convened with an eye toward countering rival Hillary Clinton's criticism that he lacks the experience to guide the nation in an age of terrorism.
At the same time, Obama and his advisers emphasized foreign policy themes that draw contrasts with Clinton, arguing that the times call for a fresh approach to international relations and Obama would be the better global messenger for a break with the past not only because of his life experience but also his early opposition to the war in Iraq.
Obama, who has recently been criticizing Clinton on the campaign trail for artful political stands that lack sufficient clarity, also called for "open and candid" stands on international issues from presidential candidates.
" We've seen what it is like when the door is shut on the American people. We know what it is like to have old Washington hands like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld say 'Trust us. We know what we're doing,'" Obama said, in a thinly veiled swipe at Clinton's claims of greater experience in Washington..
The three-hour program included Anthony Lake, Bill Clinton's first national security adviser, opining that Obama probably is better prepared in foreign policy than was his former boss or presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were when they were first elected.
"I cannot understand why he is attacked for a lack of experience," Lake said.
Clinton Administration alumni Susan Rice, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and Richard Danzig, who was Secretary of the Navy, also vouched for the candidate as they discussed his policy views.
Harvard Kennedy School professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power lauded Obama as "someone who can look at the world as it is, not as it was" even as she criticized a Washington foreign policy establishment that "is not tailoring policies sufficiently to 21st century threats."
Speaking after the event, Power acknowledged that the Obama campaign had organized the event in part to demonstrate "the breadth of his foreign policy expertise." That, she said, "I don't think has penetrated in New Hampshire and Iowa.
Within hours of the event, the Clinton campaign had e-mailed out a statement to reporters reprising the former first lady's criticism of his credentials.
"With the critical foreign policy challenges America faces in the world today, voters will decide whether Senator Obama, who served in the Illinois State Senate just three years ago and would have less experience than any president since World War II, has the strength and experience to be the next president," said the statement, issued under the name of campaign spokesman Phil Singer.