STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Republican presidential candidate John McCain may support the war in Iraq, but he's disowning some of the policies that led to it. Without directly criticizing President Bush, McCain suggested a more collaborative approach with American allies.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): We need to listen. We need to listen, to the views and respect the collective will of our Democratic allies.
INSKEEP: Senator McCain gave a speech in Los Angeles, California that was shot through with questions about the current president's legacy. That legacy includes a war that was started over the objections of numerous U.S. friends.
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.
INSKEEP: NPR News analyst Juan Williams was following this speech. And Juan, how can McCain raise questions about the president's approach to foreign policy while remaining firmly in favor of the war in Iraq?
JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, the big clue here, Steve, is that there was the absence of mention of President Bush, really. I think for fans of mystery novels, it's the dog that didn't bark. He mentions President Truman. He mentions President Kennedy as role models in how to deal with international crisis and war. But basically, McCain said the U.S. can't lead by power alone, can't lead by economic power or military power. He said it really is a matter of leading by -as you just heard in that bit of sound that we just played - attracting others to the cause, creating new alliances with international institutions to advance peace and freedom. A new, what he called global compact. And unlike President Bush, he acknowledged that there is a problem with global warming and that we need to enter into agreements about it. And he said he would close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, that the implication, Steve, was that the US image world has been tarnished by the way the war has been conducted.
INSKEEP: By the way the war has been conducted, and yet he remains fairly in support of that war.
WILLIAMS: He does. He - one thing he said yesterday was that the surge is not the solution. He said that we should not, quoting here, "recklessly retreat" end quote, from Iraq, regardless of the consequences. And so his overall argument is that withdrawal now will lead to a more difficult war with greater dangers down the road. He says we have to pay the cost of this war or pay a higher cost in a larger, more difficult effort later on. So, in that sense, he's saying we need to stay the course.
INSKEEP: Well, let's hear McCain's own words on that.
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 one.
INSKEEP: Oh, but Juan Williams, let's talk about the political wages. McCain has been able to say in recent weeks, hey, the surge is working. The news is getting better, but not this week, as we just heard from Lourdes Garcia-Navarro about increasing violence again.
WILLIAMS: That's right Steve. And so he - in the speech yesterday in Los Angeles, he didn't talk specifically about the recent violence. Instead, he used a measure going back to June of 2007. He said that since then, the sectarian and ethnic violence has gone down, and he pointed to what he called a normal - return to normal political and economic life for the average Iraqi. So obviously, not in touch with these events that we heard about this morning. And specifically, he said that there has been economic growth taking place and slow political progress, and offered that as a rationale that there's possible to do what he called win in Iraq. And by winning, he said he suggested a stable government, a democratic government, one that's not a threat to its neighbors and does not offer a home to terrorists.
INSKEEP: So just so we understand this, Juan, because McCain criticized by implication some of the president's approaches to foreign policy, you have to ask is he now saying he supports the war in Iraq just because we're stuck with it, or is he still saying it was always a worthy cause and it remains a worthy cause?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, in fact, if you go back and look at the history, he was a supporter of the war. But what he's saying now, Steve, is it's a moral responsibility. That's his quote. And if we don't hold up to this moral responsibility, it could lead to ethnic cleansing, civil war, genocide. And so, in that sense, he's saying that no matter where we started, the argument now is about the cost of withdrawal.
INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR News Analyst Juan Williams this morning. You can read John McCain's speech on foreign policy for yourself by going to npr.org.
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