- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2007

Sen. John McCain yesterday apologized for saying the lives of the troops killed fighting the war in Iraq were “wasted,” becoming the latest White House hopeful recanting his word choice within hours of announcing 2008 candidacy.

Less than 24 hours after telling CBS’ David Letterman he would seek the Republican presidential nomination, the Arizona senator was forced to issue a statement clarifying his remarks.

“Last evening, I referred to American casualties in Iraq as wasted. I should have used the word ‘sacrificed,’ as I have in the past,” said Mr. McCain, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and a key ally of President Bush on Iraq policy.

“No one appreciates and honors more than I do the selfless patriotism of American servicemen and women in the Iraq War,” he said in the statement, which did not use the word “apology.”

Mr. McCain told Mr. Letterman on Wednesday: “Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be. We’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives.”

The Democratic National Committee immediately called on Mr. McCain to apologize to American military families.

“How is it that John McCain now believes American lives are being ‘wasted,’ yet he so stubbornly supports the President’s plan to escalate the war in Iraq and put more American lives in harm’s way?” DNC spokeswoman Karen Finney fired off in a statement, saying he was “insulting our brave troops.”

A similar semantic scuffle erupted following Sen. Barack Obama’s official presidential announcement last month, when he told Iowans, “We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized, and should have never been waged, and on which we’ve now spent $400 billion, and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.”

The Illinois Democrat later apologized for a “slip of the tongue,” telling the Des Moines Register, “I was actually upset with myself when I said that, because I never use that term. Their sacrifices are never wasted.”

“What I meant to say was those sacrifices have not been honored by the same attention to strategy, diplomacy and honesty on the part of civilian leadership that would give them a clear mission,” he said.

Mr. McCain’s apology was similar and welcomed by his colleagues, who said he should be forgiven for misspeaking.

“This is life with constant media exposure,” said McCain friend Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

“He is in the spotlight and every thought is analyzed and every word is subject to criticism,” he said. “Presidential aspirants are human, and they are all going to go through this.”

Indeed, few 2008 wannabes remain without a gaffe.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s first day as a candidate was dominated by a verbal flap for which he was compelled to apologize by early evening.

His announcement was overshadowed by a New York Observer article in which he said Mr. Obama as a candidate was the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

The Delaware Democrat’s apology said he meant no offense to Mr. Obama or past black presidential candidates.

John Edwards, a former Democratic senator from North Carolina, was embarrassed when his official announcement was leaked on the Internet the day before he intended to declare his presidential intentions.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton did her announcement via Web video, eliminating the possibility of an error. But a week later, she faced less-than-friendly headlines for a joke she tried to make in Iowa about “evil” men.

A supporter asked Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat, how she was equipped to fight “evil men” such as terrorist Osama bin Laden. As she repeated the question, pausing at the words “evil men,” she made the audience laugh, prompting reporters to speculate she was making a joke about either her husband, former President Bill Clinton, or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, fortunately they’ve been in places that you guys aren’t located,” said presidential contender Sen. Sam Brownback, referring to reporters. The Kansas Republican joked that he’d rather not share them now.

On a serious note, Mr. Brownback defended Mr. McCain as a “patriot,” noting, “I don’t think anybody thinks the troop lives have been wasted.”

Mr. Obama agreed, telling reporters, “As somebody who has had the same phrase in a speech, you know, I think that nobody would question Senator McCain’s dedication to our veterans.”

He also speculated Mr. McCain meant to express a similar sentiment to his own, that lawmakers have a “sacred duty to make sure that we are honoring their sacrifice by giving them missions in which they can succeed.”

In his statement, Mr. McCain acknowledged U.S. mistakes in Iraq.

“We have paid a grievous price for those mistakes in the lives of the men and women who have died to protect our interests in Iraq and defend the rest of us from the even greater threat we would face if we are defeated there.”

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