The Obama campaign opened this week with a focus on the Iraq war, despite the claims of pundits who insist the war is John McCain’s strongest point.

On the same day Barack Obama published an op-ed in the New York Times, July 14, characterizing John McCain’s Iraq policy as no different from George W. Bush’s and as a ‘strategy for staying,’ Obama campaign surrogates sharply criticized the Arizona Republican in a teleconference with reporters for failing to live up to his claim for straight talk.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) recalled his years of friendship and collegiality with Sen. McCain, but insisted that when it comes to Iraq McCain has little understanding of the facts on the ground. ‘He doesn’t get it,’ Biden told reporters.

Biden stated that McCain’s comparisons of the Iraq war and occupation to U.S. involvement in Korea and World War II are faulty at best. It ‘absolutely demonstrates a lack of understanding of the problems America faces,’ Biden said.

Obama’s senior foreign policy adviser Dr. Susan Rice added that McCain’s is ‘fundamentally disconnected from reality.’

McCain wants to deny the fact the Iraqi’s are now calling for a timetable for withdrawal linked to any security agreement, Rice said. The Iraqi government has not come close to a political settlement, the main aim of the surge, she added.

Despite McCain’s poor judgment and failure to understand the Iraq issue, Rice added, his campaign has not failed to attack Obama personally for his position on ending the war.

Instead of acknowledging his problems on the issue, the McCain campaign ‘went about impugning the character of Sen. Obama and the Democrats by saying that indeed it is our aim to lose in Iraq,’ she noted.

Labeling the smear campaign as ‘old school’ politics, Rice said, ‘It’s all meant to obscure the fact that John McCain has been wrong on Iraq from the very beginning and is wrong to this day.’

Dating back to November 2001, McCain campaigned for an attack on Iraq, has supported staying the course and has helped to block measures to bring the troops home.

July 15, Obama delivered a major policy speech on Iraq in in Washington which he reiterated his plan to end the war in Iraq. The 36-minute speech put forward a realist foreign policy in which Obama linked the use of military power, diplomacy, economic resources, and multilateral institutions to U.S. global interests.

‘Instead of pushing the entire burden of our foreign policy on to the brave men and women of our military,’ he said, ‘I want to use all elements of American power to keep us safe, and prosperous, and free. Instead of alienating ourselves from the world, I want America – once again – to lead.’

Obama further drew sharp contrasts between himself and John McCain. ‘I warned that the invasion of a country posing no imminent threat would fan the flames of extremism, and distract us from the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban; Senator McCain claimed that we would be greeted as liberators, and that democracy would spread across the Middle East…. Senator McCain wants to talk of our tactics in Iraq; I want to focus on a new strategy for Iraq and the wider world.’

Sen. Obama did not pledge a reduced role for the U.S. or for imperialism in the world, but he did offer an alternative to a ‘single-minded, open-ended’ focus on Iraq.