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McCain hits report as ‘recipe’ for defeat

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Sen. John McCain, joining a growing list of critics, yesterday said the Iraq Study Group's widely touted book of proposals for settling the war in Iraq is a recipe for defeat.

"There's only one thing worse than an overstressed Army and Marine Corps, and that's a defeated Army and Marine Corps," said Mr. McCain, the Arizona Republican who sits on the Armed Services Committee.

"We saw that in 1973. And I believe that this is a recipe that will lead to, sooner or later, our defeat in Iraq."

Like several other key members of Congress, Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said the report's 79 recommendations include many broad, long-sought goals but very few specific solutions to the concrete problems that have made the situation such a complicated mess.

"It's about as daring as a glass of warm water," Mr. Kingston said. "They might as well have come out against crime. Do they think the president doesn't want to end sectarian violence?"

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and a staunch supporter of the war, commended the group for some of the choices it made, but said most of its recommendations are no different from "the policies that we have been following." And some recommendations, he said, seemed unrealistic.

"I'm skeptical that it's realistic to think that Iran wants to help the United States succeed in Iraq," Mr. Lieberman told the group's co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, yesterday. "They are, after all, supporting Hezbollah, which gathers people in the square in Beirut to shout, 'Death to America.' "

Observed Mr. McCain: "I don't believe that a peace conference with people who are dedicated to your extinction has much short-term gain."

Yesterday's criticism, after a day of enthusiastic plaudits from lawmakers, especially Democrats, when the report was first released this week, suggests that the Iraq war will continue to dominate the political landscape for the foreseeable future. The harsh criticism from Mr. McCain, one of the most talked-about figures to possibly replace President Bush in the White House in 2008, further suggests that it will dominate national politics for at least the next two years.

Still, Mr. Baker warned lawmakers yesterday against taking the group's suggestions they like and leaving others out.

"I hope we don't treat this like a fruit salad and say, 'I like this, but I don't like that. I like this, but I don't like that,' " said Mr. Baker. "This is a comprehensive strategy designed to deal with this problem we're facing in Iraq, but also designed to deal with other problems that we face in the region, and to restore America's standing and credibility in that part of the world."

The Bush administration, which commissioned the group and expressed gratitude for its report, has indicated that no single study of the situation in Iraq will be taken as a wholesale blueprint for the future. And even Defense Secretary-designate Robert M. Gates, who was a member of the Iraq Study Group until his nomination, indicated that the final report would be more fruit salad than blueprint.

"I am open to a wide range of ideas and proposals," he said during his confirmation hearings this week.

Many conservatives outside of Congress also railed on the group's findings.

"As we thought, as the leaks suggested, there's nothing in here about winning the war," radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners after the report was released. "These commission members, the ones I heard, especially [former Supreme Court Justice] Sandra Day O'Connor -- boy, I wanted to puke."

Mr. Limbaugh referred to the bipartisan commission as the "Iraq Surrender Group," a nickname widely circulated among conservative bloggers.

The Weekly Standard, among the leading "neoconservative" supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said the report offered little new to the debate over how to quell the sectarian violence that many are now calling a civil war.

"After nine months of deliberation and an unprecedented build-up of expectations that these sages would produce some brilliant, original answer to the Iraq conundrum, the study group's recommendations turn out to be a pallid and muddled reiteration of what most Democrats, many Republicans, and even Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officials have been saying for almost two years," the editors wrote.

While President Bush faces some of the toughest decisions about how to proceed with the war in Iraq, he's not the only one. Democrats, especially those considering a run for the White House in 2008, also face a thorny path ahead.

During yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Robert. C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, asked if it was not time to rescind Congress' approval for the war. Then, he added rather pointedly, "that was passed in 2002 without my vote."

Many in the room laughed but at least two fellow Democrats sitting on the dais beside Mr. Byrd were mum. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Evan Bayh of Indiana, both of whom voted for the war and both of whom are considering a run for the White House, kept their faces buried in the group's book of recommendations.

Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton took yesterday's criticism in stride.

Between prime-time Senate hearings and crowded press conferences, Mr. Baker was shown yesterday's New York Post, which on the cover portrayed him as a "surrender monkey." Beneath that wartime headline are two shaggy, crouched monkeys with the faces of Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton.

"Lovely," he said as he took the paper in his hands and reviewed it closely.

"If we're getting attacked by this rag, you know we're doing something right," he sniffed.

Eric Pfeiffer contributed to this report.

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