- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday called for a U.S. troop pullout from a war that “we cannot win,” as Sen. John McCain and Vice President Dick Cheney spent the day in Baghdad, touting security improvements and pledging to maintain a long-term military presence in Iraq.

Just days before the five-year anniversary of the war’s start, Mrs. Clinton said Mr. McCain and the vice president are responsible for a war that has reduced U.S. military and economic strength, damaged America”s reputation abroad and could ultimately cost more than $1 trillion.

“They both want to keep us tied to another country’s civil war, a war we cannot win,” the Democratic presidential aspirant said in a speech at George Washington University in the District. “That in a nutshell is the Bush-McCain Iraq policy: Don’t learn from your mistakes, repeat them.”

The senator from New York said she wants to begin bringing U.S. troops home within 60 days of her taking office in January and took aim at Mr. McCain, who recently said U.S. troops could remain in Iraq for 100 years, just as in South Korea, Japan and Germany.

“Senator McCain and President Bush claim withdrawal is defeat. Well, let’s be clear, withdrawal is not defeat. Defeat is keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years,” she said.

In Baghdad, Mr. McCain ridiculed Mrs. Clinton’s 60-day plan as he met with top U.S. military advisers, Iraqi government officials and sectarian leaders: “I just think what that means is al Qaeda wins.”

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee said the United States must do the exact opposite: maintain its commitment in Iraq, where a U.S.-Iraq military operation is under way to clear al Qaeda from its last urban stronghold of Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

“We recognize that al Qaeda is on the run, but they are not defeated,” the senator said after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. “Al Qaeda continues to pose a great threat to the security and very existence of Iraq as a democracy. So we know there’s still a lot more of work to be done.”

Mr. McCain touted the dramatic drop in violence since President Bush added 30,000 troops, a plan he staunchly supported. Attacks have fallen by about 60 percent since last February, when the troop surge began, the U.S. military said.

But terror attacks spiked across the country yesterday: A female suicide bomber killed more than 40 people in the holy Shi’ite city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad. The capital was also torn by new violence. A roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers and a minibus packed with explosives killed three persons and wounded eight others.

Shortly after the vice president’s arrival yesterday, explosions went off near the heavily fortified Green Zone. U.S. helicopter gunships circled central Baghdad as Mr. Cheney later traveled outside the secure zone for several meetings.

Like Mr. McCain, Mr. Cheney, who spent last night in Baghdad after he met with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, said it is crucial that “we not quit before the job is done.”

“It would be a mistake now to be so eager to draw down the force that we risk putting the outcome in jeopardy,” the vice president said. “And I don’t think we’ll do that.”

Mr. Cheney said that because of the surge, Iraqis are beginning to make political progress — a sore point with Gen. Petraeus, who recently complained that Iraqis lacked the political will to move forward.

“I was last in Baghdad 10 months ago, and I can sense as a result of the progress that’s been made since then that there have been some phenomenal changes, in terms of the overall situation, both with respect to the security situation, where Iraqi and American forces have done some very good work, as well as with respect to political developments here in Iraq,” Mr. Cheney said.

He also defended the war, which began March 19, 2003. “If you look back on those five years, it has been a difficult, challenging but nonetheless successful endeavor … and it has been well worth the effort,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, was left on the sidelines yesterday but struck back at her from afar. Speaking on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, the Illinois senator called her a “latecomer” to the anti-war movement, noting her vote to authorize the war in 2002.

“It’s not enough to stand up five years later in the heat of a campaign and say that you’re ready on Day One — you have to be right on Day One. On the war in Iraq, Senator Clinton’s judgment was wrong,” he said.

But like Mrs. Clinton, he pledged a swift departure from Iraq if elected. “It was an unwise war, which is why I opposed it in 2002 and why I will bring this war to an end in 2009.”

Mr. McCain and Mr. Cheney did not cross paths during the day as the vice president held a series of meetings with Iraqi leaders. He traveled outside the U.S.-protected Green Zone in a heavily armored motorcade to visit Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and powerful Shi’ite political leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim.

Mr. McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was accompanied by Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, two top supporters of his presidential ambitions. The trio is also stopping in Israel, Jordan, Britain and France.

Mr. Cheney is scheduled to stop in Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem, the Palestinian territories, Turkey and Oman on a nine-day tour.

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