LOS ANGELES -- In a broad-ranging foreign policy speech, Sen. John McCain pledged yesterday that, if elected, his administration's foreign policy would be based on cooperation with U.S. allies, and he called for a league of democracies that could build "an enduring peace."
In remarks to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, McCain cautioned that America's power and influence "does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want" and said U.S. leaders should not "assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed."
"We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies," McCain said before an audience of several hundred people. "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."
The presumed Republican presidential nominee from Arizona distanced himself from what some have termed the cowboy diplomacy of the Bush administration while maintaining his strong support for the course in Iraq.
McCain argued that if the United States is to achieve its goals of routing out terrorists and achieving peace in Afghanistan and Iraq, it must lead "by attracting others to our cause" and "defending the rules of international civilized society." With that aim, he repeated his call for closing the detention center at Naval Air Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
In Iraq, McCain said the U.S. goal should be to "win the hearts and minds of the vast majority of moderate Muslims who do not want their future controlled by a minority of violent extremists." Withdrawing from Iraq, as his Democratic opponents have proposed, he said, "would be an unconscionable act of betrayal." That act, he argued, could subject the Iraqi people to violence, ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide. The Democrats' course, he said, also could draw the United States into "a wider and more difficult war that would entail far greater dangers and sacrifices than we have suffered to date."
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said McCain failed to offer any meaningful new policies.
"John McCain's empty rhetoric today can't change the fact that he has steadfastly stood with President Bush from Day One." Dean said in a statement. "His new appreciation for diplomacy has no credibility after he mimicked President Bush's misleading case for a unilateral war of choice when it mattered most."
McCain cited "rising China" as a central challenge facing the next president and said China should boost transparency on its military buildup while doing more to help "isolate pariah states" such as Myanmar, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
"China and the United States are not destined to be adversaries," McCain said. "We have numerous overlapping interests, and I hope to see our relationship evolve in a manner that benefits both countries." But he said that until China moves toward political liberalization, "our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values."
Maeve Reston writes for the Los Angeles Times.