John McCain's campaign Thursday branded his Democratic White House foe Barack Obama's foreign foray a "political stunt" as the Middle East and Europe swing next week turned into a huge media event.
Each of the three main US network news anchors planned to catch up with Obama, ensuring a blizzard of media coverage which will dwarf the attention paid to Republican candidate McCain's similar tour earlier this year.
Republicans complained Obama, who made a major speech on Iraq and Afghanistan this week, had made up his mind on his policy before visiting the war zones, and accused him of ditching previous positions for political gain.
"As this trip becomes reality, it is also reality that it is more about politics than it is about fact-finding," Republican Senator Richard Burr told reporters in Washington.
Republican representative Eric Cantor, another high-profile McCain backer, complained that top network television anchors were heading abroad to interview Obama.
"The question really needs to be posed -- is this type of coverage fair? This is nothing but a political stunt," he said.
Earlier, McCain's spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker signalled that the Arizona senator's team considered Obama fair game, even during trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, which have yet to be announced for security reasons.
"I found it interesting that he released his plans for the way forward in Iraq and Afghanistan prior to visiting the region or speaking to commanders on the ground," Hazelbaker said on Fox News.
"Let's stop the pretence that this is a fact-finding trip, it is the first of its kind, campaign rally overseas."
The Obama campaign rejected the McCain campaign's central thrust that the Democratic hopeful had made up his mind about Iraq before holding talks with war commander General David Petraeus.
"All John McCain has ever looked for in Iraq are reasons to stay there indefinitely," said Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan.
"It is clear that he is going to continue to adhere to George Bush's ideological agenda even as every other critical national security challenge is neglected."
In a sweeping new national security blueprint, Obama this week announced plans to pull troops out of Iraq at the rate of one or two brigades a month, and to divert at least two combat brigades to Afghanistan.
The Obama team also took issue with Hazelbaker's comments, recalling that McCain had once suggested the two candidates travel to Iraq together.
"First John McCain wanted Barack Obama to travel with him to Iraq and the campaign used the occasion to raise campaign cash, now his campaign is calling Senator Obama's trip a campaign rally overseas.'" said Sevugan.
"The McCain campaign should stop worrying about Barack Obama's travel plans and start focusing on addressing the pressing challenges that the Bush-McCain foreign policy has made worse."
Obama is expected to travel to Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, Germany, France and Britain next week.
The Republicans also released what they billed as a "documentary" showing Obama speaking out against Bush's troop surge strategy in Iraq which debuted early last year, which they credit with reducing violence in the country.
Obama has recently said it is not surprising that security has improved given the influx or nearly 30,000 US troops, but argued that the underlying rationale for the surge -- that it would give room for political reconciliation in Iraq -- has not yet been achieved.
"Where does Barack Obama stand on Iraq" the narrator of the video, titled "whatever the politics demand" asked.
McCain argues that large-scale troop withdrawals from Iraq would imperil recent security gains, and should be based on events on the ground, not what he calls an artificial "time-table."
Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.