From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
BILLINGS, MT -- Obama responded to McCain's criticism of recent comments the Illinois senator made about Iran, linking the presumptive GOP nominee to what he called the failed policies of George Bush.
Obama said both Republicans' stance that Iran must meet a list of preconditions before engaging with them directly was "naïve, wishful thinking."
He also hit McCain hard on his ties to lobbyists, portraying him as someone who does not understand that lobbyists play a negative role in Washington politics.
In a speech in Chicago this morning, McCain said Obama had downplayed the threat posed by Iran when the Democrats said yesterday in Oregon that Iran spends much less on its military and would not stand a chance against the United States in the instance of a conflict -- and that America should be open to negotiating with the country from its position of strength.
McCain said Iran produced the deadliest explosive devices used in Iraq to kill American soldiers, supported terrorist groups, was bent on Israel's destruction, and was intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. The Arizona senator also argued that meeting with Iran's president without preconditions would legitimize a dangerous leader on the world stage.
Obama hit back hard. "John McCain, he's said, 'Oh, Obama doesn't understand the threat of Iran.' I understand the threat of Iran. But what I know is that the Soviet Union had the ability to destroy the world several times over, had satellites spanning the globe, had huge masses of conventional military power -- all directed at destroying us."
Obama went on to talk about the threats Iran poses, citing many of the same points McCain has. He argued the "Bush-McCain policy of fighting an endless war in Iraq and refusing to pursue direct diplomacy with Iran" was to blame for Iran's strengthened position and suggested McCain wanted to double down on Bush's policy rather than dealing with threats like nuclear proliferation.
"John McCain is right that the greatest threat we face is a terrorist with a nuclear weapon -- that's why when he was busy supporting a war against a country that had no nuclear weapons, I was busy in the Senate working with Republican Dick Lugar to pass legislation to secure loose nuclear weapons and loose nuclear materials around the world!"
And Obama again used the experience of past presidents to argue that America should not be afraid to negotiate with our enemies. "The Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons, and Iran does not have a single one. And when the world was on the brink of nuclear holocaust, Kennedy talked to Khrushchev, and he got all those missiles out of Cuba," he said. "Why shouldn't we have the same courage and the competence to talk to our enemies? That is what strong countries do -- that is what strong presidents do. That is what I will do as president of the United States of America."
Obama asked what Bush and McCain were afraid of when it came to dealing directly with Iran. "Demanding that a country meets all your conditions before you meet, before you meet with them -- that is not a strategy. It is just naïve, wishful thinking," he said. "I'm not afraid that we will lose some propaganda fight with a dictator. It's time for America to win those battles because we have watched George Bush lose them year after year after year."
Obama also continued to draw a contrast between himself and McCain on the matter of lobbyists, hoping to take advantage of the news that the presumptive GOP nominee's campaign had severed ties with five aides in recent days because of their lobbyist work.
"After nearly three decades in Washington, John McCain can't see or won't acknowledge what's obvious to all of us here today -- that lobbyists aren't just part of the system in Washington, they're part of the problem," he said. "John McCain gave a whole speech about what he'd do to make Washington work, but he didn't even mention the corporate lobbyists who are the main reason it doesn't work. He says he's against earmarks. Well, who do ya think is slipping in those pork projects into all our laws? He says he's against waste. Well, who think, who does he think is promoting waste in government? He says he's for opening up government. Well, who do you think wants to keep it closed?
He said the McCain campaign was being run by lobbyists and that it was being paid for with lobbyist money. "Sen. McCain has been a candidate in this race for more than a year, but it was only in the past few days, when stories surfaced publicly about his lobbyist aides and their clients, that Sen, McCain took any action to curb their role," he said. "An adviser who'd been lobbying for big energy companies was removed. So were two others who'd done work for the military regime that's stopping aid from getting into Burma. And just yesterday, John McCain's national finance co-chair had to resign after it was revealed that he lobbied Senator McCain and others on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia. I'm glad Sen. McCain's taking these steps. But it's noteworthy that two of the most influential corporate lobbyists in Washington have taken time off to run his campaign. And they are still at the helm today."