White House fires back at McCain’s ‘easy’ critique on Iraq
The White House on Aug. 23 fought back against Sen. John McCain’s assertion that the administrationwronglyledthenationintothinking the Iraq warwouldbe easy, even as a new poll suggests that for the first timesince it beganamajorityof Americans don’t think the war is part of the fight against terrorism.
“It is difficult, and the president hassaid it is goingtobe difficult from the beginning,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who called it “puzzling to me” that Mr. McCain’s comments were gaining attention because, she said, he had made similar criticisms before.
Mr. McCain, who has been a staunch defender of the war, said while campaigning in Ohio for Sen. Mike DeWine that the public had been “led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach,” and listedtheclaimsoftopadministration officials that indicated an easier war.
“I think one of the biggest mistakeswemadewasunderestimating the size of the task andthe sacrifices thatwouldberequired,”Mr.McCain said. “Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few deadenders. 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.”
Though she said she hadn’t seen Mr. McCain’s comments directly, Mrs. Perino rattled off three differentoccasionswhenMr.Bushsaidthe fight wouldbe hard, including at the beginning of the war on March 19, 2003, again two months later even afterhehehadstoodbeneatha“mission most recently during a press conference on Aug. 21.
Despitechallenginghiscomments, theWhiteHousewascarefultopraise the senator, indicating just how powerful a political figure Mr.McCain is.
“He is a senator who is not shy aboutsharinghisviews.That’soneof thereasonsheissuchauniquefigure in American politics, and also one of the most popular,” Mrs. Perino said.
AMcCain spokesman on Aug. 23 said the senator was out of the country traveling and didn’t have anything more to add.
Mr. McCain has become a yardstick that Democratic challengers areusingtoattackRepublicans.That is natural in Arizona, Mr. McCain’s home state, butonAug.23Rep.SherrodBrown,theDemocraticmember ofCongresswho is runningtounseat Mr. DeWine, pointedly noted that Mr. DeWine did not agree with Mr. McCain.
“Instead of echoing McCain’s remarks, DeWine yesterday again failed to criticize the administration’shandlingofthewarorto call for an exit strategy,” Mr. Brown’s campaign said in a statement.
The National Republican SenatorialCommitteetriedtosteertheconversation back to the political campaign, pointing out that Mr. McCain had strongly endorsed Mr. DeWine and said they share “basically the same” voting record, while Mr. Brown’svotingrecord is “drastically different.”
President Bush on Aug. 21 put Iraqsquarely at thetop of this year’s political campaigns, saying the two parties had profound differences in how they would handle the war.
Mr. Bush has argued that Iraq is amajorpartofthewaron terror, but aCBS-NewYorkTimespollreleased on Aug. 23 found that 51 percent of Americans now say the conflict in Iraq is “separatefromthewaronterrorism,” a jump of 10 percentage pointssinceJune. Still, thesame poll foundMr.Bushalsoscoredhishighest marks in more than a year on his handlingofthewaron terror, with55 percent approving.
On vet to another: Veteran Richard Danielson, right, talks with Sen. John McCain after the Arizona Republican made an appearance at Cuyahoga Community College in Parma, Ohio on Aug. 21 in support of Sen. Mike DeWine's re-election campaign.