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Obama hits back over "lack of experience" tag

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama hit back at critics who said he lacks foreign policy experience to be president and said on Saturday many of those critics had voted for the war in Iraq.

His comments appeared to target presidential rival Senator Hillary Clinton of New York who leads polls for the Democratic nomination ahead of elections in November 2008, in part because of voter perceptions that she is more experienced as a two-term senator and former first lady.

Obama opposed the war in Iraq, though he was not in the Senate at the time, and argues that his position shows his good judgment. Clinton voted to support it in 2002. She now calls for a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“It amuses me lately how some folks in Washington have been talking about: ‘Well, we’re not sure that Obama’s got enough experience in foreign policy,” he said in a speech.

“These same folks who are talking about a lack of experience are the same folks who joined up with (President) George Bush and said this (the war in Iraq) was a good idea, that somehow we were going to be made safer, that we are going to be greeted as liberators, that are going to create a democracy in Iraq. Who’s inexperienced?” he said.

He was speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta and in his speech he portrayed himself as an inheritor of the civil rights mantle.

In recent weeks Clinton and Obama have sparred in the sharpest dispute of the Democratic race over the issue of experience.

Clinton accused Obama of being naive and irresponsible for saying in a debate last month he would be willing to meet without preconditions the leaders of Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela in his first year in office.

Clinton’s position was that she would only meet those leaders after careful lower-level diplomacy bore fruit. Obama said she represented conventional thinking in line with that of the Bush administration and would not bring the fundamental change Americans need.

More recently they have also clashed over the possible use of nuclear weapons with Clinton again saying Obama’s position showed naivete.

Obama said that the administration, despite the experience of its senior figures, had made serious mistakes in Iraq.

“There’s an old saying which says: There’s no fool like an old fool. (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (former U.S. Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld have a lot of experience. They have a great resume. But it’s not how much experience you have, it’s whether you learn from your experience that matters,” he said.