Debate over foreign policy and how best to wage the war on terror continues to dominate the early stage of the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
Debate among the eight Democrats seeking the White House next year is intensifying in the wake of comments from Senator Barack Obama of Illinois that he would be willing to go after terrorists taking refuge in Pakistan even if the Pakistani government did not give its permission.
In the latest Democratic candidates forum in Chicago, Senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Hillary Clinton of New York criticized Obama's recent statements on Pakistan.
"You can think big but remember, you should not always say everything you think if you are running for president, because it can have consequences across the world and we do not need that right now," she said.
Despite the criticism from his fellow Democrats, Senator Obama did not back down and said his critics should be subject to similar scrutiny for initially supporting the war in Iraq, a war that Obama opposed before he was elected to the Senate.
"I find it amusing that those who helped authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism," he said. "If we have actionable intelligence on al-Qaida operatives, including [Osama] bin Laden, and President Musharraf can not act, then we should."
Clinton supporters argue that Obama's recent comments on Pakistan and other foreign policy issues reinforce their contention that he does not have the experience to be president.
Obama supporters counter that their candidate offers a fresh direction for U.S. foreign policy in the wake of an unpopular war in Iraq.
Ben Smith is with the politics Website The Politico.com.
"I think what people are going to be talking about is, 'is Obama slapping down the criticism from Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton by again pointing out that he opposed the war and they voted for it and who are they to kind of claim some sort of high ground in terms of foreign policy judgment," he explained.
The Republican presidential contenders have taken note of the debate unfolding among the Democrats.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney criticized Obama during a recent Republican debate in Iowa.
"I had to laugh at what I saw Barack Obama do," he said. "I mean, in one week he went from saying he was going to sit down for tea with our enemies, but then he is going to bomb our allies. He has gone from [former anti-Vietnam war protester] Jane Fonda to Doctor Strangelove in one week!"
But not all the Republicans were critical. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is pinning his White House hopes on convincing voters that he is the candidate best able to lead the war on terror.
"I believe that that is an option that should remain open," he said. "The senator did not express it the right way. I think the senator, if he could say it over again, might want to say that we would encourage Musharraf to allow us to do it if we thought he could not accomplish it."
Hillary Clinton leads the Democratic field and recent polls suggest she is expanding her lead over Senator Obama. However, polls in the early contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina show a close race among Clinton, Obama and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
Rudy Giuliani leads on the Republican side, but by a smaller margin over former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Mitt Romney.
Romney, however, leads among Republican voters in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Fred Thompson is expected to officially enter the race in September.