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Barack Obama vs. John McCain on foreign policy

May 19, 2008 | 11:12 am

One was in the Midwest, the other in the far West. But in competing speeches today, John McCain and Barack Obama continued an intensifying debate, ratcheting up the rhetoric in their core dispute over the posture the U.S. should assume in international negotiations.

McCain, venturing into Obama's hometown of Chicago to address a meeting of the National Restaurant Assn. (many of whose members are reliable Republicans, due to their opposition to minimum wage raises), said the Democrat "betrays the depth" of his "inexperience and reckless judgment" in his call for an American president to be willing to talk with opposing regimes, such as Iran, without preconditions.

He added: "These are very serious deficiencies for an American president to possess."

Obama, speaking later in Billings, Mont., clearly had gotten word of McCain's sharp remarks. Early in his speech, he sought to undercut the "Realpolitick" stance McCain is trying to corner for himself by calling it "naive and wishful thinking" to insist a country "meet all your conditions" before sitting down with its leaders.

Noting the ongoing negotiations that occurred throughout the Cold War -- under both Democratic and Republican administrations -- Obama asked why the U.S. should not "have the same courage and confidence" to talk to its enemies.

The two men, assuming Obama locks down his party's nomination, have toyed with the idea of squaring off at mutual "town hall" meetings in the months to come. Their long-distance sparring today certainly whets one's appetite for such encounters.

-- Don Frederick