Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said Monday he fears an offensive by Iraqi insurgents similar to the Tet offensive by the Viet Cong that sent U.S. casualties soaring in Vietnam nearly 40 years ago.
McCain, a Vietnam war veteran who spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war, said in an interview with The Associated Press that it's not the U.S. presence in Iraq that upsets voters but rather the number of casualties and the possibility those numbers could rise.
The U.S. death toll is more than 3,100 in the nearly four-year-old war.
In the GOP presidential field, McCain is one of the strongest proponents of President Bush's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by some 21,500.
"By the way, a lot of us are also very concerned about the possibility of a, quote, 'Tet Offensive.' You know, some large-scale tact that could then switch American public opinion the way that the Tet Offensive did," the Arizona senator said.
Last month, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 62 percent said the United States made a mistake in going to war in Iraq.
McCain made his comment in explaining why he did not believe the Bush administration should set a date by which it should deem Bush's troop increase a success or a failure.
"I think that it should be publicly open-ended because I think that if you set a date, that there's every possibility that the insurgents would just lay back and wait until we leave," McCain said.
Tet, a massive invasion in 1968 of South Vietnam by Communist North Vietnamese, inflicted enormous losses on U.S. and South Vietnamese troops and is regarded as a point where public sentiment turned sharply against the war.
McCain was in Richmond to address about 40 Virginia Republicans who could potentially support his 2008 presidential bid.
McCain said that while U.S. intelligence in the Middle East is better than the flawed information available before the 2003 Iraq invasion, it's still lacking as Iran continues its efforts to process nuclear material.
He said he has no doubt Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
"It is in my opinion that it is not whether they are developing nuclear weapons but when, and there is where opinion varies. Some say as short a time as two years, others as many as 10," McCain said.