ORLANDO, Fla. – Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain escalated their debate over foreign policy Tuesday, as the Democrat struck back against charges that his views on the situation in Iraq are based on political calculation.
“The times are too serious for this kind of politics,” Obama told a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention here a day after McCain told the group: “Behind all of these claims and positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president.”
The Obama campaign also announced Tuesday that it will hold a rally Saturday at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., to begin the week of the Democratic National Convention. The candidate is expected to appear with his yet-to-be-named running mate, party sources said.
As he heads into a critical week, Obama has been engaged in an increasingly heated debate with McCain over the Iraq war and global terrorism. The candidates’ back-to-back VFW speeches contrasted starkly different worldviews, with Iraq emerging as the center of their dispute.
McCain told the VFW crowd on Monday that Obama “cannot quite bring himself to admit his own failure in judgment,” particularly about the 2007 troop “surge” that Obama vigorously opposed in the Senate.
“Senator McCain now argues that despite these costly strategic errors, his judgment has been vindicated due to the results of the surge,” Obama said Tuesday. Increasing U.S. troop levels did work, he conceded. “In Iraq, gains have been made in lowering the level of violence, thanks to the outstanding efforts of our military, the increasing capability of Iraq’s security forces, the cease-fire of Shiite militias and the decision taken by Sunni tribes to take the fight to al-Qaida,” Obama told the veterans. “Those are the facts, and all Americans welcome them.”
But he added: “Understand what the essential argument was about. Before the surge, I argued that the long-term solution in Iraq is political – the Iraqi government must reconcile its differences and take responsibility for its future. That holds true today.”
Obama prefaced his critique with a nod to McCain’s war record, including the years that the presumptive GOP nominee spent in a North Vietnamese prison camp.
“But instead of just offering policy answers, he turned to a typical laundry list of political attacks. He said that I have changed my position on Iraq when I have not. He said that I am for a path of ‘retreat and failure.’ And he declared that ‘behind all of these claims and positions by Senator Obama lies the ambition to be president’ – suggesting, as he has many times before, that I put personal ambition before my country.”