Obama tells McCain not to question his patriotism


UNITED STATES:BARACK OBAMA has told John McCain to stop questioning his patriotism and has accused the Republican of showing poor judgment in supporting the United States invasion of Iraq instead of focusing on the war in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama was addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Orlando, Florida, where, a day earlier, Mr McCain had suggested that the foreign policy of the Democratic presidential candidate was determined by his political ambition.

"One of the things that we have to change in this country is the idea that people can't disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism," Mr Obama said.

"I have never suggested that Senator McCain picks his positions on national security based on politics or personal ambition. I have not suggested it because I believe that he genuinely wants to serve America's national interest.

"Now it's time for him to acknowledge that I want to do the same. Let me be clear: I will let no one question my love of this country."

Mr Obama defended his opposition to the war in Iraq, arguing that the US invasion had fuelled extremism in the Middle East and diverted resources from Afghanistan, which he described as "the central front in the war on terrorism". He held firm to his plan to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, saying it was time the Iraqi government took responsibility for the country's security.

"We should not keep sending our troops to fight tour after tour of duty while our military is overstretched. We should not keep spending $10 billion a month in Iraq while Americans struggle in a sluggish economy.

"Ending the war will allow us to invest in America, to strengthen our military and to finish the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and the border region of Pakistan."

Mr Obama's remarks came amid intense speculation about his choice of a vice-presidential running mate, which he is expected to announce this week, perhaps as early as today. The buzz in Washington last night focused on Delaware senator Joe Biden, chairman of the foreign relations committee.

Mr Biden's foreign policy expertise could help to blunt Mr McCain's advantage on national security issues and his naturally combative style would lend itself to the vice-presidential candidate's traditional role as an attack dog during the campaign.

An Irish-American Catholic from a working class background, Mr Biden could also broaden the Democratic ticket's appeal to older, white blue-collar voters who have not warmed to Mr Obama.

Mr McCain has floated in recent days the possibility of choosing a running mate who favours abortion rights, declaring that the issue is not a deal-breaker. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh warned yesterday, however, that such a move would doom Mr McCain's presidential bid and tear the Republican Party apart.

"If the McCain camp does that, they will have effectively destroyed the Republican Party and put the conservative movement in the bleachers," Limbaugh said.