- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

1:19 p.m.

LEXINGTON, Va. — Sen. John McCain today challenged Democrats and fellow Republicans wavering on the Iraq war to “subordinate a temporary political advantage” and renew their commitment to funding and finishing the war.

“So long as we have a chance to prevail, we must try to prevail,” he said, adding that he wondered when Democrats cheered on the House floor passage of a timetable bill: “What were they celebrating? Defeat? Surrender?”

The Arizona Republican’s speech, to the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, was the highest-profile event of what unofficially has become “defense week” in the presidential campaign. It has included Democrats facing off online for MoveOn.org, and defense speeches yesterday by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, and later today by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat.

Mr. McCain, who has seen his position among Republican candidates slip, has the most riding on the outcome of the war, essentially having bet his presidential run on success there. He seemed to revel in taking a position at odds with where opinion polls show American voters are.

“I would rather lose a campaign than a war,” Mr. McCain said, though in reality, he probably cannot win the campaign without winning the war.

Unlike Mr. Romney, who wrapped himself in President Bush’s war authority in his own defense policy speech yesterday, Mr. McCain instead talked about “the flawed strategy we followed in the past” and pointed out the times he has differed with Mr. Bush.

Also, rather than credit the president, Mr. McCain instead mentioned Gen. David H. Petraeus eight times, placing his hopes for success in Iraq on the military leadership: “There are the first glimmers of progress under Gen. Petraeus’ political-military strategy,” he said.

“We have a long way to go, but for the first time in four years, we have a strategy that deals with how things really are in Iraq,” Mr. McCain said.

He said Democrats who voted for the war initially have a responsibility to recognize when “the right strategy is proposed and the right commanders take the field.”

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, a candidate for his party’s presidential nomination who was not in Congress at the time the war was approved but has opposed it from the beginning, said Mr. McCain was engaging in “the same ideological fantasies that got us into this war.”

“What we need today is a surge in honesty,” Mr. Obama said, adding that it should start with Iraqis themselves, who must be pressured by the threat of withdrawing troops to find a political solution.

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