- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sen. John McCain today said the U.S. can no longer assume the mantle of lone democratic superpower, and is instead now a first among equals that must rely on an emerging “league of democracies” to secure peace and freedom.

He also said his potential Democratic presidential opponents’ calls for withdrawal from Iraq would “draw us into a wider and more difficult war,” and embraced the call for freedom in the Middle East that President Bush pioneered in his 2005 inaugural address.

“Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is the establishment of peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states that pose no threat to neighbors and contribute to the defeat of terrorists. It is the triumph of religious tolerance over violent radicalism,” he said, offering a more in-depth yardstick than the Bush administration, which has consistently said success means an Iraq that can “sustain, govern and defend itself.”

In a broad address aimed at laying out his vision for U.S. international action Mr. McCain, Republicans’ presumptive presidential nominee, said the U.S. must take the lead in cutting its own greenhouse gas emissions; called for kicking Russia out of the G-8 group of leading industrialized nations while inviting in Brazil and India; and said he would help African development by setting a goal of eradicating malaria.

“I am, from hard experience and the judgment it informs, a realistic idealist. I know we must work very hard and very creatively to build new foundations for a stable and enduring peace,” he said.

Mr. McCain didn’t break much new ground — he had already called for a post-Kyoto climate treaty, for closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for a “league of democracies” that share a similar view of peace, and for ending malaria.

But his speech gave insight into the broader philosophy he would bring to the job of president.

Speaking to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, Mr. McCain portrayed himself as a reluctant warrior who knows first-hand way “is wretched beyond all description.”

“Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war,” he said.

Mr. McCain said China doesn’t have to be an adversary, but said that decision rests with Chinese leaders, who must prove they will help isolate “pariah states such as Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe.”

“Until China moves toward political liberalization, our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values,” he said.

The two nations the international community is trying to stop from obtaining nuclear weapons — North Korea and Iran — get short treatment. North Korea merits just one brief mention, while Iran gets three. Venezuela and its president, Hugo Chavez, weren’t mentioned at all, and neither was Cuba.

Anti-war groups said Mr. McCain did not give an acceptable solution to the war in Iraq, and sent reporters press releases with titles such as “Can you say … Civil War?” that highlighted renewed violence between Shi’ite militias in southern Iraq.

Even before he was a third of the way through his speech, the National Security Network, a liberal foreign policy group, had blasted it as a repeat of President Bush.

“This speech is at best a continuation of Bush’s foreign policy rhetoric but is weak on substance,” said Rand Beers, the network’s president, who was a top advisor to Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 Democratic presidential bid.

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