Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has been a strong supporter of U.S. efforts in Iraq, began and ended his foreign policy address Wednesday by saying how much he hates war.
In between, McCain stressed the need for new and improved "global alliances," while offering harsh words for Iran, Russia, and Islamic extremists in Iraq and elsewhere who pose "the central threat of our time."
"I am, from hard experience and the judgment it informs, a realistic idealist," said McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, in an address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
It was a speech of "reassurance," said Derek Chollet, senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, an independent research organization in Washington.
Chollet, a former Clinton administration official, said McCain seemed to be addressing critics who believe he has been "overly aggressive" while also drawing a contrast with the perceived unilateralism of the Bush administration.
American power, McCain said, "does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want."
Twice, he added that "we need to listen" to our allies. He also called for the creation of a new "League of Democracies" to "advance our values and defend our shared interests."
In Iraq, McCain cited the reduction of violence since the addition of 30,000 more U.S. troops last year. While the Iraqi government has not made as much political progress as he would like, he said a premature withdrawal would consign that country to "horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide."
"Our critics say America needs to repair its image in the world," McCain said. "How can they argue at the same time for the morally reprehensible abandonment of our responsibilities in Iraq?"
In other proposals, McCain urged a new global warming agreement, and he advocated closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, provided that nations can agree on "the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control."
While many of his key points Wednesday came up during the primary campaign, McCain made one new proposal. He called for the United States to lead in new efforts at global nuclear disarmament. "We do not need all the weapons currently in our arsenal," he said.
The Arizona senator advocated free trade, particularly with Latin America. He also said that India and Brazil should be added to the Group of Eight industrialized nations — and that G-8 should expel Russia for backsliding on democracy.
"The big themes are deepening cooperation with Europe, deepening cooperation with Latin America and the Southern Hemisphere," said Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. McCain also spoke of combating AIDS and malaria in Africa.
Some items may give allies pause, Mead said, such as McCain's call to kick Russia out of the G-8. European leaders, Mead said, "look at Russia and say, 'You know, we get a lot of oil and gas from them.' "
Calls for international cooperation ring hollow when compared with McCain's support for the Iraq war, said Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman. "His new appreciation for diplomacy has no credibility," Dean said.
The United States can't shy away from some challenges, McCain said, such as nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, the latter "a nation whose president has repeatedly expressed a desire to wipe Israel from the face of the Earth."
Until China moves toward political liberalization, the U.S. relationship will be based on "periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values," McCain said. He did not mention China's crackdown on Tibet in his speech.