CHICAGO (AFP) — Senator Barack Obama on Wednesday warned "tough talk" was no substitute for sound judgment, as he touted his commander-in-chief credentials and took swipes at rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain.
A day after winning by a landslide in the latest Democratic nominating contest in Mississippi, Obama launched a counter-attack against Clinton, who contends he is too inexperienced to be president.
"As a candidate for the presidency, I know that I am running to be commander-in-chief -- to safeguard this nation's security," Obama said, flanked by retired generals and admirals backing his campaign.
"There is no responsibility that I take more seriously."
Obama criticized President George W. Bush for suggesting he is "simply listening to the generals" when making decisions about the best course of action in Iraq while he does not actually "internalize the suggestions of these generals."
"It's not a choice between ignoring the generals or passing on responsibility to the generals," Obama told reporters.
"The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions."
Speaking soberly against a backdrop of US flags and those representing the five branches of the US armed forces, Obama renewed his commitment to a speedy withdrawal from Iraq.
Obama said he would listen carefully to the military and national security leadership "in terms of pace, the approach and the tactics of withdrawal," but would not "let the generals suggest that somehow they are making policy."
"I will make the final decision and I intend to negotiate a withdrawal from Iraq, and I believe we can do it at a pace of one or two brigades a month," he said.
Obama also complained about the tone of the national security debate in the campaign, which has seen Clinton use a chilling advertisement suggesting her rival is not ready to answer a dead-of-night security crisis in the White House.
"Instead of a serious, substantive debate, we've heard vague allusions to a 'commander-in-chief threshold' -- that seems to be about nothing more than the number of years you've spent in Washington," Obama said.
"After years of being told that Democrats have to talk, act and vote like John McCain to pass some commander-in-chief test, how many times do we have to learn that tough talk is not a substitute for sound judgment?" he said, referring to the Republican presidential candidate.
Obama said that while he was disappointed that the attack on his credentials had come from a fellow Democrat, it was one he expected to face when he heads off against McCain in the general election.
He called Clinton's attacks pure politics and said that if she really believed he was not qualified to lead she would not have offered him a position as her vice president.
"Apparently the thinking is, I might not be ready on day one but maybe on day 15," he joked.
The Clinton campaign countered by saying Obama's talk about his judgment wasn't enough to make up for his lack of experience.
"The Obama campaign knows well that he has not yet passed the commander-in-chief test, which is why they are doing events like the one they were doing today," Clinton communications chief Howard Wolfson said on conference call with reporters.
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