Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said Wednesday that the U.S. needs new tools and new allies as it tries to confront Islamic terrorism, and he called for a more collaborative foreign policy than the Bush administration has pursued.
"When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right," McCain said in a wide-ranging speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles. "But we in return must be willing to be persuaded by them."
Such comments represent a more "proactive, consultive" approach to foreign policy than that of the current administration, said a senior McCain adviser.
"Sen. McCain, for his long tenure in the Congress, has developed a dialogue with our European friends," said the adviser, Richard Williamson, a former ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. "So his effort, once he gets in, is going to be built on a foundation of seeking out opinions for over two decades."
Not everyone was swayed by McCain's remarks on diplomacy.
"While there is much to praise in Sen. McCain's speech, he and I continue to have a fundamental disgreement on Iraq," said Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
McCain, who just returned from a week of meetings in Europe and the Middle East, called for a global compact that he described as a league of democracies. He urged the U.S. to demonstrate "international good citizenship" by closing its prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and working with allies on how to handle dangerous detainees.
"We can't torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured," said McCain, who described himself as a "realistic idealist" on foreign policy.
Good citizenship also extends to issues such as global warming, the Arizona senator noted. He's been out in front of many Republicans on that issue, winning friends in Europe and in California, where he's teamed up with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to battle climate change.
McCain also spoke about improving conditions in Iraq but made no mention of recent skirmishes in several cities. "People are going back to work. Markets are open," he said, despite reports of empty streets and shuttered stores in Basra and parts of Baghdad where Iraqi security forces have clashed with Shiite militiamen.
The United States has a moral responsibility in Iraq, he said, adding that it will take more than military force for the United States to defeat Islamic extremism.
"Our goal must 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," the senator said. "In this struggle, scholarships will be far more important than smart bombs."
McCain was clearly on more familiar ground talking about foreign policy than he was Tuesday in Santa Ana, Calif., when he gave a speech tackling the home mortgage crunch. He spoke easily about China, Africa and Latin America, as well as the Middle East. And his speech had a historical sweep, as he challenged the U.S. track-record of backing anti-democratic rulers in an effort to promote stability.
Speaking in unusually personal terms about his family's long history in the military, McCain said he is not indifferent to the suffering that war has brought.
"I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are," he said. "But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later on."