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McCain rips Republican candidates for "isolationism"

U.S. Senator McCain speaks to Australia's Defence Minister Smith during the IISS Asia Security Summit in Singapore
U.S. Senator McCain speaks to Australia's Defence Minister Smith during the IISS Asia Security Summit in Singapore

By Thomas Ferraro and Dave Clarke

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator John McCain, his party's 2008 presidential nominee, ripped into the current crop of Republican White House contenders, accusing them of breaking party tradition by preaching "isolationism."

McCain said if former President Ronald Reagan were still alive he would have been disappointed in last week's Republican presidential debate in which candidates voiced impatience with U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya.

"He would be saying: That's not the Republican Party of the 20th century, and now the 21st century. That is not the Republican Party that has been willing to stand up for freedom for people for all over the world," McCain said.

McCain made the comments in an interview with ABC's "This Week" program that was broadcast on Sunday.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who was one of McCain's top advisers in the 2008 campaign, echoed McCain's concerns.

Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if he's fearful "that there is an isolationist streak now running now through the Republican Party, Graham said, "Yes."

"If you think the pathway to the GOP (Republican) nomination in 2012 is to get to Barack Obama's left on Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, you are going to meet a lot of headwinds," Graham said.

At their first major debate last Monday, Republican White House hopefuls questioned the wisdom of U.S. fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya.

Their performances marked a stark difference from just a few years ago.

In 2004, then Republican President George W. Bush successfully won a second term by embracing his war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the 2008 campaign, McCain and other Republicans also supported Bush's surge of troops in Iraq.

But at last week's debate in New Hampshire, Republican presidential candidates made it clear that times have changed.

'A WAR OF INDEPENDENCE'

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, seen as the early front-runner for the Republican nomination, reflected the sentiment of many of those hoping to unseat Democratic President Barack Obama in next year's election.

"Our troops should not go off and fight a war of independence for another country." Romney said. "Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban."

McCain said he was not ready to endorse any candidate for his party's 2012 presidential nomination, but is concerned about what he heard from them in the debate.

"This is isolationism. There's always been an isolation strain in the Republican Party," McCain said. "But now it seems to have moved more center stage, so to speak."

McCain said that some of the opposition from Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail to current military efforts is the result of partisan politics.

House of Representatives Republican leaders have warned they could move legislation to cut off funds for operations in Libya.

"I would say to my Republican friends: If this were a Republican president, would you be trying to impose these same conditions?" McCain said.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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