McCain foreign policy speech calls for global engagement

John McCain urged more U.S. engagement with the world on Wednesday, including the creation of a new global warming plan and a global "League of Democracies."

"We cannot build an enduring peace based on freedom by ourselves," McCain said in an address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

He did not offer any new proposals in the speech, instead repackaging ideas he had developed during the Republican primary campaign.

McCain defended the Iraq war, condemned torture of terrorism suspects, advocated free trade, urged Russian's expulsion from the G-8 alliance of nations, and said "dealing with a rising China will be a central challenge for the next American president."

Russia should be expelled from the G-8 because of its rollback of democracy, McCain said, while rising economic powers Brazil and India should be invited in.

The former Navy pilot and Vietnam POW also stressed his desire for peaceful relations among nations, telling the crowd, "I detest war."

McCain said the question of whether the al-Qaeda terrorist group operated in Iraq before the war is "immaterial," because they are there now and will use a U.S. withdrawal to proclaim victory.

"Civil war in Iraq could easily descend into genocide, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions," McCain said.

Democratic National Committee Chariman Howard Dean said Wednesday McCain's call for global cooperation rings hollow given his support for the Iraq invasion of 2003.

"John McCain's empty rhetoric today can't change the fact that he has steadfastly stood with President Bush from day one and is now talking about keeping our troops in Iraq for 100 years," Dean said. "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. Why should the American people now trust John McCain to offer anything more than four more years of President Bush's reckless economic policies and failed foreign policy?"

The Arizona senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee only mentioned Iran in connection with North Korea, saying the United States should block the nuclear ambitions of both nations. He did describe Iran as "a nation whose president has repeatedly expressed a desire to wipe Israel from the face of the Earth."

McCain also skipped over some recent events, such as China's crackdown on Tibet. He said the United States has "numerous overlapping interests" with the communist nation. "But until China moves toward political liberalization, our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values," McCain said.

He devoted most of his speech to "the transcendent challenge of our time: The threat of radical Islamic terrorism."

"Prevailing in this struggle will require far more than military force," McCain said. "It will require the use of all elements of our national power."

That includes diplomacy. McCain also said the United States must be a good model for the rest of the world. In addition to condemning terror, he said "we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control."

McCain ended by saying he wants to be president because "more than any other nation on earth," the United States should lead "in building the foundations for a stable and enduring peace."

McCain appeared to be talking to critics who say he has been "overly aggressive" with provocative comments about Iran, Iraq and Russia, said Derek Chollet, a senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security.

"It seems to be more of a speech of re-assurance," Chollet said. "And it was an implicit contrast with the Bush administration."

McCain also seemed to break with the policies from President Bush's first term, in which the United States often acted alone, said Walter Russell Mead, a foreign policy analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations. Mead noted that Bush has spoken more of global cooperation in his second term, and McCain wants to continue that effort.

"The big themes (of McCain's speech) are deepening cooperation with Europe, deepening cooperation with Latin American and the Southern Hemisphere," Mead said.

That includes McCain's call for a League of Democracies. Mead called it a "nice idea" that speaks to frustration with the United Nations because China and Russia can veto anything the U.N. might want to do.

But it's impractical to think a league of democracies could replace the U.N., not only because it might exclude China and perhaps Russia must also many authoritarian regimes in Africa and the Middle East, Mead said.

"It's easier talk about this kind of thing than actually put it together," Mead said.

Chollet said some conservatives oppose the league because of suspicion of international institutions, while liberals worry about alienating China and Russia. But Chollet said it can't hurt to have an organization promoting democratic values worldwide.

"I am one of those who is, 'the more the merrier,'" Chollet said.

McCain, long a proponent of the League of Democracies, said it "can harness the vast influence of more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests."

He delivered the speech within days of returning from a trip to the Middle East and Europe.