ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain said today it would be irresponsible to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq too soon. But he also said the U.S. needs new tools and new allies as it tries to confront Islamic terrorism. McCain delivered a wide-ranging speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles.
As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, McCain called for a more collaborative foreign policy than the Bush administration has pursued.
SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain called the threat of radical Islamic terrorism the central challenge of our time, not unlike the battle to contain communism during the Cold War.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House.
HORSLEY: But unlike the Cold War, McCain said, the U.S. can no longer afford to act alone. In the 21st century when economic and military power is widely shared, he said the United States must lead by attracting others to our cause.
Sen. McCAIN: 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.
HORSLEY: Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said after the speech, McCain's comments on diplomacy were unconvincing. Nevertheless, they do mark a departure from the Bush administration. Senior McCain adviser Richard Williamson, who's a former ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, says McCain has a more proactive, consultive approach to foreign policy.
Mr. RICHARD WILLIAMSON (Senior Adviser to John McCain; Former Ambassador, U.N. Commission on Human Rights): Senator McCain, for his a long tenure in the Congress, has developed a dialogue with our European friends. So his efforts, once he gets in, is going to build on a foundation of seeking out opinions for over two decades.
HORSLEY: McCain has just returned from a week of meetings in Europe and the Middle East. He called today for a new global compact that he described as a League of Democracies. And he says the U.S. itself needs to act as a model citizen, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and working with allies on how to handle dangerous detainees.
Sen. McCAIN: We can't torture or treat inhumanly suspected terrorists we have captured.
HORSLEY: McCain says good international citizenship also extends to issues like global warming. He's been out in front of many Republicans on that issue, which helps him win friends in Europe and here in California, where he's joined Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in battling climate change.
McCain spoke today about improving conditions in Iraq, and he made no mention of the latest skirmishes between Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias. He said the U.S. has a moral responsibility in Iraq, but added, it will take more than military force to defeat Islamic extremism.
Sen. McCAIN: 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. In this struggle, scholarships will be far more important than smart bombs.
HORSLEY: McCain was clearly on more familiar ground today, talking about foreign policy than he was yesterday, tackling the whole 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.
McCain described himself as a realistic idealist. And while he comes from a long line of military men, he insisted he's not indifferent to the suffering that war has brought.
Sen. McCAIN: I hold my position because I hate war. And I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later on.
HORSLEY: McCain's foreign policy speech casts a three-day campaign swing through California. He promises to compete here in the fall, even though it's been 20 years since a Republican presidential candidate won the state.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.