US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, citing the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, pledged on Saturday to bridge the partisan divide in Washington, end the war in Iraq and transform American politics as the first black US president.
Launching his 2008 White House campaign outside the building where Lincoln began his fight against slavery with an 1858 speech declaring "a house divided against itself cannot stand," Obama said it was time to "turn the page" to a new politics.
"Let us begin this hard work together. Let us transform this nation," Obama, 45, told thousands of cheering supporters who braved sub-freezing temperatures outside the old state Capitol building.
"By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail," he said.
Obama, a rising party star and the only black US senator, said the United States had overcome many challenges, from gaining its independence to the Civil War to the Great Depression.
"Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done. Today we are called once more and it is time for our generation to answer that call," he said.
Obama's candidacy has intrigued Democrats looking for a fresh face and sparked waves of publicity and grass-roots buzz about the first black presidential candidate seen as having a chance to capture the White House.
He has vaulted quickly into the top tier of a crowded field of Democratic presidential contenders along with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and 2004 vice-presidential nominee John Edwards.
But the freshman senator from Illinois has faced questions and doubts about his relative lack of experience, his policy views and about whether the United States is ready to elect a black man to the White House.
Obama acknowledged the questions about his experience.
"I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness a certain audacity to this announcement. I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change," he said.
He said a fresh perspective could break through Washington gridlock on issues like energy, health care and the Iraq War.
"What's stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial," he said.
"The time for that kind of politics is over. It is through. It's time to turn the page," he said.
Obama, an early opponent of the war, has called for a phased withdrawal of troops starting in May. He opposes President George W. Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq.
"America, it's time to start bringing our troops home," he said. "Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace."
At a later stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he told a crowd of more than 2,000 who jammed a high school gymnasium he might need to increase the Pentagon budget early in his presidency to replenish a depleted military.
He also said the withdrawal from Iraq would need to be handled smoothly to prevent a spike in bloodshed and unrest.
"We should be at least as careful getting out as we were careless getting in," he said.
Obama's political rise has been astonishingly fast. He gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention before he was even elected to the US Senate, and he has authored two best-selling books and appeared on numerous magazine covers.
The son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, he was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review and served eight years in the Illinois Legislature in Springfield before going to Washington.
Source: China Daily/Agencies