Republican presidential candidate John McCain, ridiculing Barack Obama for “the audacity of hopelessness” in his policies on Iraq, said Friday that the entire Middle East could have plunged into war had U.S. troops been withdrawn as his rival advocated.
Speaking to an audience of Hispanic military veterans, McCain stepped up his criticism of Obama while the Illinois senator continued his headline-grabbing tour of the Middle East and Europe. The Arizona Republican contended that Obama's policies – he opposed sending more troops to Iraq in the “surge” that McCain supported – would have led to defeat there and in Afghanistan.
“We rejected the audacity of hopelessness, and we were right,” McCain said, a play on the title of Obama's book “The Audacity of Hope.”
McCain laid out a near-apocalyptic chain of events he said could have resulted had Obama managed to stop the troop buildup ordered by President Bush: U.S. forces retreating under fire, the Iraqi army collapsing, civilian casualties increasing dramatically, al-Qaida killing cooperative Sunni sheiks and finding safe havens to train fighters and launch attacks on Americans, and civil war, genocide and a wider conflict.
“Above all, America would have been humiliated and weakened,” he said. “Terrorists would have seen our defeat as evidence America lacked the resolve to defeat them. As Iraq descended into chaos, other countries in the Middle East would have come to the aid of their favored factions, and the entire region might have erupted in war.”
Obama has called for a withdrawal over 16 months. McCain again criticized him for advocating “a politically expedient timetable” and for voting against funding for troops. McCain had raised eyebrows earlier this week by charging that Obama “would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.”
With one exception, Obama has voted for every spending bill for troops at war. In 2007, Bush vetoed a bill that provided funding on condition of troop withdrawals, and Obama joined 13 other senators who opposed the measure that took its place.
McCain's speech in Denver came at the conclusion of a week in which he struggled against Obama's overseas tour de force. Yet amid the awkward moments, McCain managed to campaign busily in key battleground states and to raise millions of dollars at fundraisers.
Polls in many swing states are close, and some are tightening. The Arizona Republican sought to turn this to his advantage in what was clearly a difficult week to be a stay-at-home candidate.
Later Friday, McCain visited the Dalai Lama in Aspen, Colo., his first meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader and a chance to express criticism of Chinese treatment of those who live in Tibet just weeks before the Olympics in Beijing.