Candidates outline their war policy differences

The war in Iraq has distorted America's foreign policy, cost it thousands of lives, tarnished its image and emptied its treasury, Sen. Barack Obama said Tuesday. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee pledged that he would swiftly end the war and reorient America's approach to the world to address the challenges of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change and energy dependence.

A short time later, Sen. John McCain, the probable Republican opponent, accused Obama of pursuing a strategy of defeat and drawing judgments without adequate facts.

“What's missing in our debate about Iraq, what has been missing since before the war began, is a discussion of the strategic consequences of Iraq and its dominance of our foreign policy,” Obama said in a 38-minute speech. “This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe.”

For his part, McCain said during a campaign stop in Albuquerque, N.M., that while he and his opponent “agreed the Bush administration had pursued a failed strategy there and that we had to change course,” he added that they “disagreed, fundamentally” on how to proceed.

“I called for a comprehensive new strategy — a surge of troops and counterinsurgency to win the war. Sen. Obama disagreed,” he said. “He opposed the surge, predicted it would increase sectarian violence, and called for our troops to retreat as quickly as possible. Today we know Sen. Obama was wrong.”

Obama acknowledged in what was billed as a major foreign policy address that the addition of tens of thousands of combat troops to Iraq early last year had lowered violence there. But he said that only strengthened his case for a rapid withdrawal, not weakened it, because the surge had increased the strain on American forces and had cost lives and money as the situation in Afghanistan worsened.

In a series of interviews, statements, advertisements and speeches over the past week, Obama has been laying out a broad vision of America's role in the world in an Obama presidency, in which he has emphasized the application of soft power — the use of diplomacy and economic aid — over the use of force. And he has spoken of reducing American combat forces in Iraq and adding as many as 10,000 more troops to battle al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said that as president he would try to mend alliances that have frayed in the seven years of the Bush-Cheney administration.

Obama plans to make his first overseas trip as a presidential candidate at the end of the week, visiting Iraq and Afghanistan with two like-minded senators, Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. Obama, an Illinois Democrat, will then move on to Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Germany, France and England.