COLUMBUS, Ohio — Republican Sen. John McCain, a staunch defender of the Iraq war, on Tuesday faulted the Bush administration for misleading Americans into believing the conflict would be “some kind of day at the beach.”
The potential 2008 presidential candidate, who a day earlier had rejected calls for withdrawing U.S. forces, said the administration had failed to make clear the challenges facing the military.
“I think one of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices that would be required,” McCain said. “Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few dead-enders. I’m just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.”
Those phrases are closely associated with top members of the Bush administration, including the president.
Bush stood below a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” on May 1, 2003 after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The war has continued since then, with the death of more than 2,600 members of the U.S. military. Vice President Dick Cheney said last year that the Iraqi insurgency was “in its final throes.”
The Arizona senator said that talk “has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today because they were led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach, which many of us fully understood from the beginning would be a very, very difficult undertaking.”
McCain was campaigning for Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, who faces a tough fight in his re-election bid against Democratic challenger Rep. Sherrod Brown. Ohio was decisive in the 2004 presidential election, ensuring Bush’s win, and is certain to be critical in 2008.
Democrats call for phased withdrawal
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, said Tuesday that the best way to encourage Iraqis to get their political house in order is to begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said the longer the U.S. stays the course in Iraq, “the weaker we’re going to be in the war on terrorism.”
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was glad to hear McCain has realized “we need more than tough talk” on Iraq.
“It’s time we win the war on terror,” said Reid. “To do that we must change the course in Iraq.”
On Monday, McCain said at an appearance in suburban Cleveland that if U.S. troops announce a specific date to leave Iraq, insurgents will bide their time until they have an opportunity to act without interference.
“The chaos that would ensue would have direct implications for our national security,” McCain said.
DeWine said Congress would not have had the chance to authorize the war if the intelligence on Iraq’s military capability and intentions were accurate.
“It would never have come up for a vote so it would have been an entirely different situation,” he said.
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