WASHINGTON -- John McCain has been relentlessly pounding Barack Obama on his weakest ground: experience, fighting the war on terrorism and his judgment in world affairs.
And with good reason: Recent voter surveys show Obama's polls on these critical presidential-leadership qualities are in the basement and that Americans trust McCain far more on all three issues than the youthful and inexperienced freshman senator from Illinois.
His scores aren't just so-so mediocre -- they are failing grades that pose disturbing questions about the Democratic presidential front-runner's tissue-paper-thin qualifications to be commander in chief and the leader of the free world.
Consider these abysmal grades from a recent ABC/Washington Post survey that asked voters to compare Obama with the veteran Arizona senator:
-- Regardless of who you may support, who do you think (Obama or McCain) has the better experience to be president?
McCain: 71 percent, Obama: 18 percent.
-- Regardless of who you may support, who do you think has better knowledge of world affairs?
McCain: 65 percent, Obama: 24 percent.
-- Regardless of who you may support, who do you trust more to handle the U.S. campaign against terrorism?
McCain: 55 percent, Obama: 34 percent.
Little wonder, then, that McCain has chosen to attack the senator on the same grounds, using even the same words, as Hillary Clinton did earlier this year when Obama said in a Democratic debate that he would sit down and negotiate with the world's most dangerous leaders of rogue nations without any preconditions.
People like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, who believes that much -- if not most -- of the Holocaust is a fiction invented by Jews, who has been arming terrorists in Iraq to kill American and Iraqi soldiers.
Earlier this year, Clinton called Barack Obama's positions "naive" and dangerous and said it showed he did not have the experience to be commander in chief with the responsibility for protecting America's national-security interests and those of our allies.
McCain reopened that issue last week, saying Obama was "naive" and demonstrated "reckless judgment" when he said he would meet one-on-one with Ahmadinejad -- giving the Iranian strongman the prestige of a presidential summit without extracting any concessions.
The prospective Republican presidential nominee said in a speech that Obama wants to "sit down and negotiate with a government exporting the most lethal devices used against (our) soldiers." He wants to "sit down and negotiate with a government that is very clear about developing nuclear weapons ... They are sponsors of terrorist organizations. That's a huge difference, in my opinion."
Here's what Adm. Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, said about Iran's leaders in a recent interview with the Council on Foreign Relations: "The Iranians today, we have clear evidence, are providing the very weapons that are causing U.S. servicemen and women to die. That's clear, that's not refuted, that's not hawkish, that's not shaded. That is the fact."
What message would a President Obama be sending to the Hamas terrorists who now control Gaza and are lobbing missiles into Israeli territory, seeking its complete destruction? What moral authority in the war on terrorism would Obama have left if he were seen sitting down with a lunatic like Ahmadinejad in the naive belief that he could persuade him to abandon his terrorist designs on his neighbors?
If this does not raise profound doubts about Obama's judgment on national-security issues, listen to the specious, mixed-up arguments that he and other Democrats are coming up with to defend his blame-America-first policies.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, for one, maintained that President Bush has negotiated with rogue leaders like North Korea and Libya, so what's the big deal?
But Bush never rewarded these leaders with prestigious presidential summits. He dealt with them through envoys -- in the case of North Korea, with representatives from Russia, Japan, China, South Korea and the United States.
This week, Obama deployed a twisted logic worthy of the fulminations of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He said Bush's policies in Iraq were responsible for Iran becoming a powerful, threatening nation in the Middle East. Come again? Its fanatic leadership had little or nothing to do with its destabilizing actions in the region?
In March 2000, long before the war in Iraq, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in a speech before the American Iranian Council: "Through the years, this grim view (of Iran) is reinforced by the Iranian government's repression at home and its support for terrorism abroad; (and) by its assistance to groups violently opposed to the Middle East peace process ..."
Weakness on defense and national-security issues has long been one of the Democrats' strategic failures in presidential elections, but rarely has its front-runner had numbers this weak.
When only one-third of America's voters say they trust Barack Obama to handle the war on terrorism to keep us safe, and only 18 percent think he has the experience to be president, the Democrats are in deep trouble.