Democrat Barack Obama accused Republican rival John McCain this morning of launching false political attacks instead of offering answers on the Iraq war.
"That is John McCain’s prerogative," Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Orlando, Fla., which McCain addressed on Monday and said that Obama was wrong about the war and would give up recent gains. "He can run that kind of campaign, and -- frankly -- that’s how political campaigns have been run in recent years. But I believe the American people are better than that. I believe that this defining moment demands something more of us.
"If we think that we can secure our country by just talking tough without acting tough and smart, then we will misunderstand this moment and miss its opportunities. If we think that we can use the same partisan playbook where we just challenge our opponent’s patriotism to win an election, then the American people will lose. The times are too serious for this kind of politics." Obama added.
Obama sought to remind the audience that, unlike McCain, he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, and while the surge of US troops last year might have reduced violence, the war distracted the United States from fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, I warned that war would fan the flames of extremism in the Middle East, create new centers of terrorism, and tie us down in a costly and open-ended occupation. Senator McCain predicted that we’d be greeted as liberators, and that the Iraqis would bear the cost of rebuilding through their bountiful oil revenues. For the good of our country, I wish he had been right, and I had been wrong. But that’s not what history shows," Obama said.
He stood by his plan to withdraw combat forces from Iraq within 16 months, and chided McCain for eventually joining him in calling for more forces in Afghanistan.
"We must also recognize that we cannot succeed in Afghanistan or secure America as long as there is a terrorist safe-haven in northwest Pakistan," Obama added. "A year ago, I said that we must take action against bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights and Pakistan cannot or will not act. Senator McCain criticized me and claimed that I was for 'bombing our ally.' So for all of his talk about following Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, Senator McCain refused to join my call to take out bin Laden across the Afghan border. Instead, he spent years backing a dictator in Pakistan who failed to serve the interests of his own people."
UPDATE: The McCain campaign responded specifically to Obama's criticism that McCain has been less enthusiastic about going into Pakistan's tribal borderlands with Afghanistan to hunt down bin Laden.
“Unlike Barack Obama, John McCain doesn’t have to compensate for a lack of credibility on the international stage with inflammatory and public threats against American allies," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement. "The American people know that John McCain will hunt down terrorists wherever they are, and have a choice between strength and experience versus Barack Obama’s rhetoric and theatrics.”
In his speech at the VFW, Obama called on McCain to stop questioning his policies based on character.
"I have never suggested and never will that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition," Obama said. "I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America’s national interest. Now, it’s time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same.
"Let me be clear: I will let no one question my love of this country," Obama added. "I love America, so do you, and so does John McCain."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.