COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sen. John McCain on Thursday offered for the first time what he hopes will be an end date for the war in Iraq, part of a vision he presented in which his policies lead to peace and prosperity at home and abroad by 2013, the end of what would be his first term as president.
McCain’s goal of a large-scale troop withdrawal within four years was the highlight of a wide-ranging speech that sketched a world in which Democrats would join with him to approve his domestic and foreign policy agendas.
The Iraq comments appeared designed to blunt the political toll of the presumptive GOP nominee’s unwavering support for the unpopular war. Democrats have spent months pillorying McCain for saying that U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for as long as 100 years – a reference the candidate later said was intended to describe an American presence like those in Germany or South Korea.
But he quickly dismissed the suggestion that he was abandoning his criticism of Democrats and their plans for a precipitous departure.
“I think it’s dangerous for the future of America to set a date for withdrawal,” he said. “We are succeeding in Iraq. We will have succeeded further in Iraq in 2013.”
The speech was immediately mocked by McCain’s political rivals, military experts and Iraqis, who described it as fanciful and said his decision to promise a date for the end of the war was a flip-flop designed to appeal to voters who oppose the continued U.S. involvement in the conflict.
Speaking to a small group in this critically important swing state, McCain described the “conditions that I intend to achieve” by the time his first term would end. He said he would “focus all the powers of the office, every skill and strength I possess” to make that future a reality.
By 2013, McCain predicted, “America 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.” He said that only a small contingent of troops, in non-combat roles, would be needed, because al-Qaida in Iraq would be defeated and a democratic government would be operating.
He said that by the end of his first term, taxes would be lower, congressional earmarks would be eliminated and robust economic growth would have returned. He promised an end to the genocide in Darfur and a solution to the Social Security crisis. He said that construction would have begun on 20 nuclear plants and that Osama bin Laden would be captured or dead.