WASHINGTON -- Republican John McCain, in a speech forecasting what the country would look like after his first term in office, said today that he expects the war in Iraq to be won and most troops to be home by January 2013.
The prediction marks a major departure for McCain, who railed against rival Mitt Romney shortly before the Florida primary for his remark in April 2007 that he thought President Bush and Iraqi leaders should privately discuss a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. At the time, McCain suggested that the comment would embolden America\'s foes in Iraq. The Arizona senator leveled the same criticism at Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, stating that their advocacy for withdrawing troops from Iraq amounted to setting a date for \"surrender.\"
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In his speech delivered in Columbus, Ohio, today, McCain said that within five years he expects Iraq to be \"a functioning democracy\" with a \"professional and competent\" Iraqi Security Force capable of \"defending the integrity of its borders.\"
Predicting the defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq, McCain also forecast a U.S. military role, \"but a much smaller one,\" that would \"not play a direct combat role.\"
Continuing to distance himself from the Bush White House, McCain also promised not to undercut legislation, as President Bush has done, with signing statements pledging to enforce only certain aspects of the bill.
\"I will exercise my veto if I believe legislation passed by Congress is not in the nation\'s best interests, but 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,\" he said. \"I will respect the responsibilities the Constitution and the American people have granted Congress, and will, as I often have in the past, work with anyone of either party to get things done for our country.\"
Renewing his pledge to hold weekly press conferences, McCain today he added some details of how his administration would \"set a new standard for transparency and accountability.\" He urged Congress to grant him a question period, as the House of Commons does in Britain, where the prime minister appears regularly to take questions. And he promised to put Democrats in his administration.
\"This mindless, paralyzing rancor must come to an end,\" he said. \"We belong to different parties, not different countries.\" Criticizing \"a hyper-partisanship that treats every serious challenge facing us as an opportunity to trade insults, disparage each other\'s motives and fight about the next election,\" McCain said that Americans \"despair\" that each election seems to produce \"four more years of unkept promises and a government that is just a battleground for the next election.\"
In what might be interpreted as a slap at both Bush and former President Bill Clinton, McCain pledged to end the political campaign mentality that has influenced recent administrations.
\"If I\'m elected president, the era of the permanent campaign will end,\" he said. \"The era of problem solving will begin.\"
Pledging to improve education and healthcare and tackle immigration problems, congressional spending and energy independence, McCain acknowledged that the agenda was ambitious.
\"I am well aware I cannot make any of these changes alone,\" he said. \"The powers of the presidency are rightly checked by the other branches of government.\" And, he quipped, should he forget this, Congress will remind him.
The Democratic National Committee was quick to criticize the speech, calling it \"a fictional account of what he expects the American people to believe he will do as president.\" Faulting McCain for talking about transparency while he has yet to release his tax records, DNC Chairman Howard Dean said, \"The reality behind Sen. McCain\'s new rhetoric is that his plans either ignore the problems he identifies or actually make them worse.\"
Sen. Clinton also issued a statement noting that McCain \"provided no new approach or new proposals\" to explain how he would produce victory in Iraq.
\"This is not the first time Sen. McCain has predicted victory in Iraq,\" she said. \"He promises more of the same Bush policies that have weakened our military, our national security, and our standing in the world. Our country cannot afford more empty promises on Iraq.\"
Although trailing Obama in delegates, Clinton said that \"when I am president, the United States will no longer give Iraq a blank check. I will bring this war to a swift and honorable conclusion, and bring our troops home, beginning within 60 days of taking office.\"