Barack Obama hit back at President Bush today, asserting that Bush's failed policies have made the country less secure and welcoming a debate on foreign policy.
"That is a debate that I am happy to have anytime, anyplace, and that's a debate that I will win because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for," Obama said, listing an Iraq war in its sixth year, Osama bin Laden still at large, Al Qaeda stronger than ever, Iran strengthened by the Iraq war, and Hamas controlling Gaza.
"Those are the failed policies that John McCain wants to double down on," Obama told supporters in Watertown, S.D.
UPDATE: McCain this afternoon did not back away at all, saying he welcomed a debate about protecting America.
"No issue is more important," he said at a gathering of the National Rifle Association in Louisville, Ky.
The Arizona senator said he would not "add to the prestige" of dictators by meeting with people like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"It is reckless," McCain said. "It would be a wonderful thing if we lived in a world where we don’t have enemies. But that is not the world we live in, and until Senator Obama understands that, the American people have every reason to doubt whether he has the strength, judgment, and determination to keep us safe."
Obama was responding to Bush's remarks to Israel's parliament Thursday equating talks with rogue regimes to the appeasement of Hitler before World War II
"After eight years, I did not think I could be surprised by anything George Bush says, but I was wrong," Obama said. Instead of celebrating the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding, the president flouted tradition and launched a political attack before a foreign audience, Obama argued.
"That's exactly the kind of appalling attack that has divided our country and that alienates us from the world. That's why we need change in Washington," he said, sporting a flag lapel pin he started wearing regularly this week after months of questions about why he didn't.
Obama also laid into McCain, saying that the presumptive Republican nominee gave a speech Thursday calling for civility and bipartisanship, but then embraced Bush's attacks.
"So much for civility," Obama said.
UPDATE: Tucker Bounds, a McCain spokesman, issued a response: "It was remarkable to see Barack Obama’s hysterical diatribe in response to a speech in which his name wasn’t even mentioned. These are serious issues that deserve a serious debate, not the same tired partisan rants we heard today from Senator Obama. Senator Obama has pledged to unconditionally meet with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- who pledges to wipe Israel off the map, denies the Holocaust, sponsors terrorists, arms America’s enemies in Iraq and pursues nuclear weapons. What would Senator Obama talk about with such a man?"
While the White House officially denied the remarks were aimed at Obama, McCain used the opportunity to argue again Thursday that Obama's willingness to negotiate shows he is naive and inexperienced in the ways of foreign policy.
But in an opinion piece published today in The Washington Post, former Clinton State Department official James Rubin accused McCain of hypocrisy and attempting to smear Obama.
McCain has attempted to link Obama to Hamas, which the State Department calls a terrorist group, citing a Hamas political adviser's comments praising Obama's foreign policy.
But Rubin said when he interviewed McCain two years ago for a British TV network, McCain suggested the United States should be willing to talk to Hamas officials in Gaza.
"They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so ... But it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that," McCain said, according to Rubin.
The McCain campaign today issued this response: “There should be no confusion, John McCain has always believed that serious engagement would require mandatory conditions and Hamas must change itself fundamentally -– renounce violence, abandon its goal of eradicating Israel and accept a two state solution. John McCain’s position is clear and has always been clear, the President of the United States should not unconditionally meet with leaders of Iran, Hamas or Hezbollah. Barack Obama has made his position equally clear, and has pledged to meet unconditionally with Iran’s leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the leaders of other rogue regimes, which shows incredibly dangerous and weak judgment,” Tucker Bounds, a campaign spokesman, said in a statement.
UPDATE: The McCain campaign this evening accused Rubin of lying, releasing a video that shows McCain's response to a follow-up question that Rubin didn't include.
Rubin asked, "So should the United States be dealing with that new reality through normal diplomatic contacts to get the job done for the United States?”
McCain replied, "I think the United States should take a step back, see what they do when they form their government, see what their policies are, and see the ways that we can engage with them, and if there aren’t any, there may be a hiatus. But I think part of the relationship is going to be dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the United States acts."
"John McCain absolutely did not advocate unconditional engagement with Hamas. Indeed, Rubin conveniently cut off his follow-up question to which McCain was clear that any engagement with Hamas would be conditioned on their actions and policies -- that any actions would be 'dictated by how Hamas acts, not how the United States acts,' " said the campaign's statement.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.