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For Memorial Day, McCain Critical of Webb's G.I. Bill

By Michael D. Shear
ALBUQUERQUE -- Sen. John McCain asserted that the G.I. Bill sponsored by Virginia Sen. James Webb will drive soldiers out of the armed services at a time when the country is trying to expand the size of the military.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony, McCain praised Webb as "an honorable man who takes his responsibility to veterans very seriously." And he said the bill, which would increase benefits for veterans after serving one tour, is a way of offering the nation's
"deep appreciation" for the veterans who have served.

But McCain insisted that he takes "a backseat to no one in my affection, respect and devotion to veterans." And he predicted that Webb's bill would reduce the military's retention rate by 16 percent.

"Encouraging people to choose to not become noncommissioned officers would hurt the military and our country very badly," he said.

McCain, a Vietnam War veteran and former POW, spoke in New Mexico on the same day that his likely opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, also traveled to this crucial swing state to pay homage to the nation's warfighters.

The pair have clashed repeatedly about the G.I. bill, with Obama criticizing McCain for supporting a less-generous alternative to Webb's bill. McCain has shot back over the last several days, calling into question Obama's experience and credibility on the issue.

In the past week, the Republican has also repeatedly attacked Obama for having a "reckless" and "naive" view of foreign policy that includes unconditional meetings with leaders of enemy countries.

But McCain did not criticize Obama directly this morning.

Instead, McCain used the solemn ceremony to reiterate his belief that a hasty departure of American troops from Iraq would destabilize the region and eventually cost the lives of more soldiers.

"To walk away now -- before the Iraqi government can fully protect its people from ruthless enemies -- would strengthen al-Qaeda, empower Iran and other hostile powers in the Middle East, unleash a full scale civil war in Iraq that could quite possibly provoke genocide there," he said.

McCain obliquely acknowledged the political damage that his support for continuing the war could do to his presidential bid, saying that he will push for victory in Iraq "even if I must stand athwart popular opinion."

But as he has done before, he also sought to show that he is no warmonger who loves war.

"I detest war," he said. "It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description. When nations seek to resolve their differences by force of arms, a million tragedies ensue."

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 26, 2008; 2:02 PM ET
Categories:  John McCain  
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Next: Obama Speaks with 'Deep Humility' on Memorial Day

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