LOS ANGELES — Sen. John McCain on Wednesday promised a collaborative foreign policy that seeks opinions from allies abroad and contrasts sharply with the go-it-alone approach of the Bush administration.
He also refused to give ground on Iraq to his Democratic rivals, declaring that America's continued presence there is a "moral responsibility" and that a reckless withdrawal would be an "unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as a great nation."
In his first extensive policy speech since securing the Republican presidential nomination, McCain delivered an impassioned argument that achieving democracy in Iraq is a necessary part of a peaceful world.
"Those who argue that our goals in Iraq are unachievable are wrong, just as they were wrong a year ago when they declared the war already lost in Iraq," he said, without naming Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. "Those who claim we should withdraw from Iraq in order to fight al-Qaida more effectively elsewhere are making a dangerous mistake."
But even as McCain offered a defense of President Bush's current war policy, he outlined a critique of the administration's dealings with allies.
In a speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, McCain called himself a "realistic idealist" and outlined a world view mirroring that of some Bush administration critics, who say the first task of the next president must be to repair relations around the world.
"Today we are not alone," McCain said. "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 speech drew a quick response from Obama spokesman Bill Burton, who castigated McCain for being "determined to carry out four more years of George Bush's failed policies, including an open-ended war in Iraq that has cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars while making us less safe."
Clinton seized on McCain's Iraq position, which she termed the Bush-McCain policy, The Associated Press reported. "Like President Bush, Senator McCain continues to oppose a swift and responsible withdrawal from Iraq," she said in a statement.
Despite McCain's support for the Iraq war, the Arizona senator said the U.S. should take a different approach to future conflicts.
In the speech, McCain renewed his call for a "global compact -- a League of Democracies" that would unite the world's free countries against tyranny, disease and environmental destruction. As he did in Europe last week, he downplayed cowboy diplomacy and stressed cooperation on global warming, torture and trade.
"We need to listen -- we need to listen -- to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies," McCain said. "When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them."
Bush's foreign policy approach has moderated in his second term, with greater outreach to European allies and a willingness to strike deals with countries such as North Korea. In essence, McCain suggested he would embrace Bush's controversial policies on terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan while extending Bush's newfound willingness to meet allies halfway.
At the same time, McCain indicated he would break with Bush's efforts to accommodate Russia, saying he would push to eject it from the Group of Eight club of industrial powers.
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