042407obama.jpgDemocratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said Monday that President Bush has fallen short in his role as leader of the free world, and the 2008 election is a chance to change that.

“This president may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open. And it is time to fill that role once more,” Obama said in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The Illinois senator was in his hometown to deliver a foreign policy address that was rescheduled last week after the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Obama said the world is disappointed in the United States, but it would be a mistake to “cede our claim of leadership in world affairs” because Americans might be tempted to turn inward in the face of negative world opinion.

“America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We must neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission — we must lead the world by deed and by example,” he said.

The theme is a popular one in the Democratic presidential campaign. Obama rival John Edwards repeated the sentiment Monday evening, saying, “The world primarily sees America as a bully.”

In an address to the National Jewish Democratic Council in Washington, Edwards said, “We should be leading in a way that demonstrates our moral authority so that the rest of the world wants to be like America.”

Obama’s speech is the third time in recent months that the senator went home to deliver a foreign policy address.

In a March speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a bipartisan pro-Israel lobby, Obama blamed Bush administration failings in Iraq for strengthening the strategic position of Iran. He called for a reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq, during a November address before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

On Monday, Obama reiterated his call for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and said bringing a responsible end to the war was one of the ways the country could begin to lead again if he is elected president.

Another would be to increase the overall size of the military by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines, forces stretched thin fighting wars abroad and protecting the homeland.

Obama proposed increasing spending on foreign aid to $50 billion by 2012, including $2 billion to establish a global education fund, from the current amount of about $20 billion annually. Obama did not specify whether the cost of Iraq was included.

Obama also pledged to lead a global effort to secure nuclear weapons and materiel at vulnerable sites around the globe within four years. He said the United States must work with Russia — which he called “neither our enemy nor our close ally right now” — to make sure its weapons and nuclear materiel are secured.

Also, he said the world must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and work to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“If America does not lead, these two nations could trigger regional arms races that could accelerate nuclear proliferation on a global scale and create dangerous nuclear flash points,” he said.

Republican National Committee spokesman Chris Taylor dismissed Obama’s criticism.

“It obviously takes a lot more than empty rhetoric to lead this country and that is what Barack Obama continues to give us,” Taylor said.–DEANNA BELLANDI___

Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

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