Video: McCain reveals rarely seen side

updated 3/26/2008 8:10:22 PM ET 2008-03-27T00:10:22

Republican presidential candidate John McCain called Wednesday for the United States to work more closely with democratic countries and live up to its duties as a world leader.

McCain, the Republican nominee-in-waiting, has staked his candidacy on his national security experience, but has been criticized by Democratic White House hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton as offering the same foreign policies as President Bush.

Mindful of the need to lay out his own vision for the future and distance himself from the unpopular incumbent president before the November general election, McCain proposed a more collaborative approach.

"Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed," the veteran senator said a few days after returning from a trip to the Middle East and Europe.

"We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies."

The pitch, laid out in an appearance before the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, is a fresh acknowledgment by McCain that America's standing on the world stage has been tarnished and that the country has an image problem after eight years of Bush at the helm.

McCain said that the U.S. "cannot lead by virtue of its power alone."

"If we lead by shouldering our international responsibilities and pointing the way to a better and safer future for humanity... it will strengthen us to confront the transcendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism," said McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war who has decades of experience in the Senate on foreign affairs.

On the Democratic side, Clinton was trying to shift focus from her exaggerated account of a trip to Bosnia 12 years ago. She said Tuesday that she would have left the church that Obama attends over critical remarks his pastor made about America.

Clinton's comments marked a clear shift in her handling of the Obama church controversy, which she had generally avoided until now. Some Democrats see Obama's refusal to dissociate himself from the Chicago church and its recently retired minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as his stickiest campaign challenge so far.

Video: McCain gets a free ride The controversy appeared this week to be overshadowed by criticism of Clinton, who, trying to bolster her account of her foreign policy experience in a recent speech, said that she and her daughter Chelsea landed in Tuzla, Bosnia, under sniper fire during a trip in March 1996.

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Contemporary news accounts and television video of the arrival showed there was no evident danger to the then-first lady as she landed at the air field.

Clinton told reporters in Pennsylvania that she erred in describing the scene, which she realized after talking with aides and others.

"So I made a mistake. That happens. It proves I'm human, which you know, for some people, is a revelation," Clinton said, flashing a grin.

But she also used the session to join the fray over Wright's sermons.

"I think that given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor," Clinton said.

Over the years, Wright has preached fiery sermons to his predominantly black congregation in which he shouted "God damn America" for its treatment of minorities. He also suggested that U.S. policies in the Middle East and elsewhere were partly responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

In a well-received speech last week, Obama condemned Wright's remarks and the preacher's refusal to acknowledge progress in race relations. But the Illinois senator refused to dissociate himself from his longtime spiritual mentor, saying he could no more "disown" Wright than he could his white grandmother who confessed her fear of black men.

Clinton was ready for the Obama question at her news conference, and read much of her response from notes, unlike her handling of other questions.

"We don't have a choice when it comes to our relatives," she said. "We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend. Everyone will have to decide these matters for themselves. They are obviously very personal matters."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement, "It's disappointing to see Hillary Clinton's campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention" from her acknowledged exaggeration of the Tuzla incident.

Obama, who had been vacationing with his family in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, was returning to the campaign trail on Wednesday in North Carolina, which holds its primary on May 6. Both Obama and Clinton are competing for votes in Pennsylvania, which holds the next primary contest on April 22.

Obama leads in pledged delegates, has won more state primaries and leads in the overall popular vote with 10 contests remaining.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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