LOS ANGELES (AP) — Republican John McCain called anew for the United States to work more collegially with democratic allies and live up to its duties as a world leader, drawing a sharp contrast to the past eight years under President Bush.
“Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed,” the likely presidential nominee said in a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. “We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies,” McCain added.
Coming days after his trip to the Middle East and Europe, McCain’s speech was intended to signal to leaders abroad – and voters at home – that he would end an era of what critics have called Bush’s cowboy diplomacy. McCain never mentioned Bush’s name, though he evoked former Democratic Presidents Truman and Kennedy.
It was, in effect, a fresh acknowledgment from the Arizona senator that the United States’ standing on the world stage has been tarnished and that the country has an image problem under Bush.
“We know that we have work to do,” McCain told reporters later.
Critics at home and abroad have accused Bush of employing a go-it-alone foreign policy in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when the administration spurned international calls for caution and led the invasion into Iraq.
“The United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone,” McCain said in the speech, noting that the United States did not single-handedly win the Cold War or other conflicts in its history. Instead, he said, the country must lead by attracting others to its cause, demonstrating the virtues of freedom and democracy, defending the rules of an international civilized society and creating new international institutions.
He said the United States must set an example for other democracies and renewed his call for creating a new global compact of more than 100 democratic countries to advance shared values and defend shared interests. Later, he told reporters he discussed his League of Democracies idea last week with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“If we lead by shouldering our international responsibilities and pointing the way to a better and safer future for humanity … it will strengthen us to confront the transcendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism,” the four-term senator and member of the Armed Services Committee, said in the speech.
“Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House, for he or she does not take seriously enough the first and most basic duty a president has – to protect the lives of the American people,” McCain added, suggesting that neither of his Democratic rivals, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, understand the stakes at hand.
Democrats, in turn, chastised McCain as offering the same policies as Bush – even though McCain’s foreign policy pitch stood in contrast to Bush’s sometimes unilateral approach.
“John McCain is determined to carry out four more years of George Bush’s failed policies,” said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.
McCain also staked out anew his position on Iraq, staunchly defending his support for a continued U.S. military mission as the war enters its sixth year and the U.S. death toll tops 4,000. He derided Clinton’s and Obama’s calls for withdrawal.
Recalling his father’s four-year absence after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, his grandfather’s death a day after returning from war and his own imprisonment in Vietnam, McCain said: “I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later.”
Without naming them, McCain said both Democratic candidates “are arguing for a course that would eventually draw us into a wider and more difficult war that would entail far greater dangers and sacrifices than we have suffered to date.”
Overall, the speech offered little new. Rather, McCain repackaged long-standing positions in an attempt to stand on his own and set himself apart from Bush, whose support is at a low point as the public craves change.
Answering questions afterward, McCain floated a fresh proposal – the United States entering into a free trade agreement with the European Union. “It would be a massive undertaking,” he told reporters, but said he’d like to start a conversation about it.