McCain Has Tough Words for Democrats on Iraq, Environment
By Juliet Eilperin
CHULA VISTA, Ca. -- In his first public event since returning from overseas, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told a friendly crowd of older veterans this afternoon he remained committed to staying in Iraq after observing first-hand how U.S. troops were faring there.
Speaking before a 200-person audience at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2111, McCain did not take note of the fact that the U.S. death had just reached 4,000 in Iraq, instead arguing it remained "a central battleground in the battle against al-Qaeda" and that the U.S. should stay there now that the war was succeeding.
"I don't care what anybody says, I've seen it on the ground," said McCain, who just visited Iraq, along with Israel, Jordan, France and England. He added that the occupation will ultimately translate into greater stability in the Middle East. "There's a lot at stake here, my friends, and the benefits of success are phenomenal."
McCain -- who received a hearty round of applause by declaring he would rather lose the presidential campaign than jeopardize the war effort in Iraq -- also took a swipe at Democratic Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), saying they were pushing for a hasty withdrawal: "Democrats have time and time again raised the flag of surrender. We've been able to beat that back."
In a press briefing with journalists McCain was even harsher, saying that when it came to the Democrats' position, "I don't know if it's naivetÃ© or what the problem is, but they're dead wrong when they say we should leave Iraq."
When asked why he had not mentioned the fact that the death toll there had reached 4,000, McCain retorted that on "hundreds of occasions" he had paid homage to "the sacrifice great and brave young Americans have made in Iraq and elsewhere in the world in the struggle against radical Islamic extremism."
McCain did not explain how his plan for Iraq would be different from the current strategy President Bush is pursuing, but said, when it came to showing voters how he was different from the president, "I'm offering them a record of having objected strenuously against a failed strategy for four years."
The senator spoke briefly during his talk about the need to revive the economy, without delving into specifics -- "People are hurting now, let's not deny that," he said -- but spent more time explaining why his recent European tour had strengthened his commitment to forcing a new global pact on climate change. In the event that global warming proves dangerous, he argued, the U.S. could not afford to allow greenhouse gas emissions to continue rising.
"Don't we have an obligation to the next generation of young Americans here? I think we do. I think we do," he said, adding that such action would please both our allies and younger Americans. "It's a big issue amongst our friends. It's a big issue among our young people. It should be a big issue for all of us."
McCain, who said he would push to make sure any successor to the Kyoto Protocol "includes China and India," declined to comment on the differences between his and the leading Democratic presidential candidates' plans, saying that he was unfamiliar with their plans because they do not have the same long legislative record he boasts in fighting climate change.
"I don't know what their position is because I haven't seen them show any particular commitment in the U.S. Senate or elsewhere" on climate change, he told reporters. "I have proposed legislation and fought for amendments."
In fact, both Clinton and Obama back an 80 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 by mid-century. McCain backs a 60 percent cut over that same time period.
McCain squeezed in a town hall meeting in between two fundraisers Monday, one in La Jolla and another in Palm Springs, both of which were closed to the press. He said that while he was "painfully aware" that no Republican had won California since 1988, he was confident he could carry the state.
"I will go everywhere in the state, everywhere," he said, before heading to the San Diego Airport to catch his flight to Palm Springs.
Web Politics Editor
March 24, 2008; 6:26 PM ET
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