- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sen. John McCain yesterday said the United States can no longer assume the mantle of lone democratic superpower, attempting to break with President Bush’s early foreign policy by saying the country is a first among equals and should increasingly rely on an emerging “league of democracies.”

Declaring himself a “realistic idealist” in a speech articulating his foreign policy priorities, Mr. McCain highlighted some areas in which he differs with Mr. Bush: He called for closing the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; said the U.S. could lead on nuclear disarmament; and put efforts to combat climate change at the top of America’s leadership role.

But he continued to adopt the same stance as Mr. Bush on the need to stay in Iraq, warning that Democrats’ withdrawal plans would only create a bigger war, but he did not offer his own plan to speed political progress.

“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,” the Arizona senator said.

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

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

He called for judging other nations by their actions: He suggested excluding Russia from the G-8 group of leading industrialized nations and replacing it with Brazil and India; said until China proves it shares U.S. values and is acting for good, the United States should only cooperate in areas where the two nations share goals; and said he would help Africa by setting a goal of eradicating malaria.

In a conference call with reporters, Mr. McCain’s staff said he is committed to consulting more with world partners, but he will not sacrifice American security in the process.

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said he was struck by the similarities between Mr. McCain’s speech and the Bush administration’s 2006 National Security Strategy.

In that document, the administration argued the case for freedom and human dignity as security goals, and Mr. McCain yesterday echoed much of that in calling for a break with the old approach that favored stability and relied on “autocrats” in the Middle East, such as the Shah in Iran, and even Saddam Hussein.

But Mr. McCain did not say how he would change that approach, only cautioning it won’t be done overnight.

Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Mr. McCain exhibited a markedly different tone than Mr. Bush took early in his presidency, particularly with his call for America to be a model citizen for the world.

“That’s a really big shift from what Bush and Cheney’s view has been throughout the war on terror, which has been, we do whatever we want at home, because we’re America, and America cannot act immorally,” he said.

He also said Mr. McCain added a moral dimension to Mr. Bush’s security rationale for continuing to fight the war there.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, one of Mr. McCain’s potential Democratic opponents in November, said there is “much to praise” in his speech but “like President Bush, Senator McCain wants to keep us tied to another country’s civil war.”

Mr. Katulis said Mr. McCain, in calling himself a “realistic idealist” — a term the senator will have to define as the campaign goes on — has done little to solve the central problem Mr. Bush has created by mixing different strands of thought on national security.

“It’s an accurate reflection of a conservative foreign policy that’s really at odds with itself and what it stands for,” he said.

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