McCain said Huckabee's comments could damage relations with Pakistan.
LEXINGTON, South Carolina (CNN) – Sen. John McCain condemned Mike Huckabee Monday for saying that, as president, he would strike at terrorists inside Pakistan's borders with or without permission from the country's leadership.
McCain called Huckabee's comments naïve and said the former Arkansas governor lacks military experience needed to lead.
"I certainly wouldn't telegraph my punches," McCain told CNN after a campaign stop here.
"I will always do what's necessary to preserve America's national security, but to say something like that is totally unnecessary and probably has a not beneficial effect on our Pakistani allies who are fighting against al Qaeda and with us in Pakistan."
On Saturday in South Carolina, Huckabee said if there was an "imminent threat" inside Pakistan, he would take military action there, even if it meant violating Pakistan's sovereignty under international law.
"We need to make sure we are clear that if we have an actionable target in Pakistan, that we will take action on that target because if that helps save and preserve American people," Huckabee said. "That's the foremost thing we need to be worried about."
Sen. Barack Obama made similar comments about Pakistan in August, which McCain criticized at the time as irresponsible, as did several of Obama's Democratic rivals.
Still, minutes earlier in his campaign speech at a barbecue joint, McCain promised the audience that as president he would capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and that he would take whatever measures necessary to do so.
"I promise I will get him, but I'm certainly not going to tell him how," he told reporters after speech, asked about his promise to get bin Laden. "It'd be naïve for me to tell you. That’s again an example of a lack of military experience. You never tell our enemy what you're going to do ahead of time. If you do that then you restrict your capability to do something. That’s 101 at West Point."
During his speech, McCain said he would prefer to work with Pakistan's embattled President Pervez Musharraf "before I throw Musharraf over the side" and said that before Musharraf, Pakistan was a "failed state" under former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both of whom recently returned from exile.
The senator from Arizona called Musharraf "a good man" who "has fallen prey to what happens to a lot of people, which is he thinks he is indispensable." He compared Musharraf to the shah of Iran before the 1979 revolution, suggesting that whatever Musharraf's downsides may be as a leader, they are outweighed by the fact that he brought relative stability to the country when he took power in 1999.
Musharraf's aides said Monday he will retire as chief of Pakistan's army this week in advance of the country's looming elections, a move McCain said would be a positive step.
- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby