- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

Sen. John McCain, who made criticism of Barack Obama’s war judgment a cornerstone of the presidential race, on Friday threw his support behind President Obama’s plan for a dramatic drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq by August 2010.

“I believe the president’s withdrawal plan is a reasonable one,” said Mr. McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee bested by Mr. Obama in November.

However, Mr. McCain credit the surge of troops and counterinsurgency strategy, which he championed and Mr. Obama opposed, with making the partial pullout possible.

“Given the gains in Iraq and the requirements to send additional troops to Afghanistan, together with the significant number of troops that will remain in Iraq and the President’s willingness to reassess based on conditions on the ground, I am cautiously optimistic that the plan as laid out by the President can lead to success,” he said on the Senate floor.

“The American people should be clear: The president’s plan, even after the end of its withdrawal timeline is reached, will leave in place up to 50,000 U.S. troops. All will be in harm’s way, and some will continue to conduct combat operations,” he said. “They will play a vital role in consolidating and extending the remarkable progress our military has made since early 2007.”

On the campaign trail, Mr. McCain argued that Mr. Obama’s call for a pullout from Iraq and opposition to the surge strategy demonstrated that Mr. Obama was ill prepared to be commander in chief.

Mr. Obama announced the policy shift Friday at Camp Lejeune in Cherry Point, N.C., outlining a plan for a withdraw of more than 90,000 U.S. troops and an end the U.S. combat mission there on Aug. 31, 2010.

The president Thursday night briefed Congressional leaders from both parties, including Mr. McCain, on the plan.

There are currently about 142,000 troops in Iraq. By next August, more than 7 years since it the war began, there will be between 35,000 and 50,000 troops

The new plan fits in line with the Status of Forces Agreement the Iraqi government agreed upon last year when former President George W. Bush was still in office. That plan requires a complete drawdown of troops from Iraq to have zero there by Dec. 31, 2011.

Some anti-war activists and Democrats balked that the keeping 50,000 troops in place as a stabilization force fell short of Mr. Obama’s campaign promise for a complete withdrawal within 16 months of taking office.

Mr. McCain applauded the strategy and urged the administration “not succumb to pressures, political or otherwise, to make deeper or faster cuts in our force levels.”

“The president’s plan, as it was briefed yesterday, is one that can keep us on the right path in Iraq,” Mr. McCain said. “I worry, however, about statements made by a number of our colleagues indicating that, for reasons wholly apart from the requirement to secure our aims in Iraq, we should aim at a troop presence much lower than 50,000.”

“We have spent enormous amounts of American blood in treasure in Iraq — we all know that. After all the tragic losses of life, after the hundreds of billions of dollars spent, after all the other costs our country has absorbed as a result of the conduct of this war, we are finally on a path to success,” he said. “Let us have no crisis of confidence now. Instead, let us welcome home our fighting men and women — not just thanking them for serving in Iraq, but congratulating them on bringing us to victory there.”

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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