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McCain: Iraq War Can Be Won by 2013

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaks at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, May 15, 2008, in Columbus, Ohio. (Associated Press)

Updated 11:39 a.m.
By Michael D. Shear
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sen. John McCain predicted today that the Iraq war would be won and most American troops would come home by 2013 if he is elected president, joining his Democratic rivals for the first time in offering a timeline for a large-scale military withdrawal.

McCain said only a small contingent of troops, in non-combat roles, would remain in Iraq five years from now. He said the drawdown would be possible because al-Qaeda in Iraq would be defeated and a democratic government would be operating in the war-torn country.

McCain's speech described in detail the "conditions that I intend to achieve" by the time his first term in office ends. He said he will "focus all the powers of the office, every skill and strength I possess," to make that future a reality.

McCain previously had resisted offering target dates for troop withdrawals, saying that to do so would be tantamount to giving terrorists a timeline for defeat. During the Florida primary, he blasted former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for what he said was support of a withdrawal timeline. Democrats, meanwhile, pilloried McCain for saying American troops could remain in Iraq for up to 100 years -- a reference McCain later likened to the presence of U.S. bases in Germany or South Korea.

Just last month, McCain said that "to promise a withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, regardless of the calamitous consequences to the Iraqi people, our most vital interests, and the future of the Middle East, is the height of irresponsibility. It is a failure of leadership.''

But the speech he gave this morning envisioned an America that, by 2013, "has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq war has been won."

By that time, McCain said, "the United States maintains a military presence" in Iraq, "but a much smaller one, and it does not play a direct combat role."

Asked to make a withdrawal timeline pledge during a debate last September, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama declined, saying that "it's hard to project four years from now and I think it would be irresponsible. We don't know what contingency will be out there."

But more recently, Obama has said he will remove all combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months of becoming president and will leave "some troops" in Iraq to protect U.S. embassy personnel there and carry out targeted strikes on terrorists.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said during the same debate last year that it was her "goal" to have all of the U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2013, though more recently she has said she would begin a phased withdrawal immediately.

McCain's advisers this morning sharply disputed any similarity between their candidate's goals for Iraq and the positions of Democrats. They said McCain's promise is to win the Iraq war by the end of his term, while his rivals vow to begin pullouts regardless of the conditions in the country.

"There is no similarity," said McCain adviser Steve Schmidt.

Immediately after the speech, McCain disputed the idea that he was setting a firm date for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, telling reporters that he is "promising that we will succeed in Iraq" but not promising that troops will come home if that success has not materialized.

"I'm not putting a date on it. It could be next month. It could be next year," he told reporters on the Straight Talk Express bus. "I said by the end of my first term we will have succeeded in Iraq...This is what I want to achieve. This is what I believe is achievable."

He repeated his comments from throughout the campaign that setting a date for withdrawal would lead to "chaos, genocide and we will be back with greater sacrifice."

Aides later stressed that the difference is that Democrats want to withdraw troops without any regard to the military situation in Iraq. They said a president McCain would leave troops in Iraq beyond his first term if the military situation demanded it.

"He's not saying win or lose, they come home in four years," said Mark Salter, a top McCain aide.

In the speech, McCain also described the America he hopes will exist after four years of his administration.

In that future America, he said, taxes are lower, congressional earmarks are eliminated and robust economic growth has returned. He promised a new international "League of Democracies" that will have stopped the genocide in Darfur. He said construction will have begun on 20 new nuclear plants and there will be a free-market plan to reduce greenhouse gasses. And he promised to have secured the country's southern border and offered a temporary worker program to illegal immigrants.

To accomplish those goals, McCain pledged cooperation with Democrats, saying that he will "listen to any idea that is offered in good faith and intended to help solve our problems, not make them worse."

McCain disavowed "signing statements" often used by President Bush to alter the implementation of laws, saying that "I will not subvert the purpose of legislation I have signed by making statements that indicate I will enforce only the parts of it I like."

And McCain said he will ask Congress to hold regular question-and-answer sessions with him, much like the feisty exchanges that take place regularly between the British Prime Minister and members of the House of Commons.

By Washington Post Editor  |  May 15, 2008; 10:49 AM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , John McCain  
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