WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized Democrat Barack Obama on Friday for vowing to strike al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary as the Obama camp issued a strident defense of his plan.
What had been an internecine foreign policy battle between rival Democrats Obama, an Illinois senator, and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, spilled into the Republican arena in the heavily contested state of Iowa.
"I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours... I don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort," Romney told reporters on the campaign trail.
Obama on Wednesday said if elected president in November 2008 he would be willing to launch military strikes against al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan with or without the approval of the Pakistani government of President Pervez Musharraf.
"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will," Obama said.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is one of the Republican front-runners, said U.S. troops "shouldn't be sent all over the world." He called Obama's comments "ill-timed" and "ill-considered."
"There is a war being waged by terrorists of different types and nature across the world," Romney said. "We want, as a civilized world, to participate with other nations in this civilized effort to help those nations reject the extreme with them."
The Obama campaign issued a memo that said the United States has deferred to the "cautious judgment" of Musharraf long enough on how to take out high-value al Qaeda targets like Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"By any measure, this strategy has not worked. Conventional wisdom would have us defer to Musharraf in perpetuity. Barack Obama wants to turn the page," said the memo written by an Obama foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, the founding executive director of the Harvard University Carr Center for Human Rights policy.
The memo defended a number of statements by Obama in the last two weeks that have drawn criticism from Clinton and other Democratic candidates, such as his willingness to meet leaders of hostile nations without preconditions and his ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"For years, Washington's conventional wisdom has held that candidates for president are judged not by their wisdom, but rather by their adherence to hackneyed rhetoric that make little sense beyond the (Washington area) Beltway," the memo said.
The Bush administration has also vowed to act against al Qaeda in Pakistan and elsewhere based on actionable intelligence. But it also is more inclined to work with and trust in the advice of Musharraf, who is struggling to deal with Islamic extremists in his country and has survived assassination attempts as a U.S. ally.
In Islamabad, the Pakistani government said Bush and Musharraf spoke by phone on Friday and that Bush described the prospect of U.S. strikes against al Qaeda in Pakistan as unsavory.