- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

Sen. John McCain yesterday said Sen. Barack Obama is distorting his remark that U.S. troops could stay in Iraq for 100 years, the second straight day the two presidential candidates have squared off over the war.

Last month, Mr. McCain said U.S. troops could be in Iraq for years — “maybe 100” — but has repeatedly compared such a long-term deployment to those in South Korea, Germany and Japan to secure U.S. interests.

“Of course, that comment of mine was distorted. Life isn’t fair, as Jack Kennedy said,” the Arizona senator told a town hall meeting at Rice University in Houston yesterday. “I was talking about American presence after the war,” which he said the United States would win “fairly soon.”

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee told a Rice student who had criticized his 100-year remark that the United States is deployed around the world and has been since the end of World War II.

“No American argues against our military presence in Korea or Japan or Germany or Kuwait or other places, or Turkey, because America is not receiving casualties,” Mr. McCain said yesterday.

“I think, generally speaking, we have a more secure world thanks to American presence, particularly in Asia, by the way, as we see the rising influence of China,” he said. “But the key to it is American casualties, America’s most precious asset, and that is American blood.”

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has made the 100-year remark a centerpiece of his standard stump speech, and yesterday said Mr. McCain’s stance would cost the American people “trillions of dollars … not billions, trillions.” The Illinois senator has also sought to tie his Republican opponent to President Bush, questioning the 2003 decision to go to war.

Charlie Black, a senior McCain adviser, said the United States has interests all over the world and must “be willing to project U.S. force.”

“The American people understand that we’re the world’s superpower and that we need to have a large military and we need to project our power,” Mr. Black said.

Both sides are signaling that the Iraq war policy will be a major issue in the general election. Both Mr. Obama and his Democratic presidential rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York favor withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq soon.

Mr. McCain is closely tied to the war, an issue he said he must explain clearly to the American people or “I lose” — although he quickly retracted the stark admission.

Though most Americans remain opposed to the Iraq war, they are now evenly divided over whether the United States should bring the troops home or keep them there until the country is stabilized, and over whether the war is going well, according to a poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center. A year ago, when Mr. Bush’s troop increase was just beginning, most preferred a U.S. withdrawal and said the military effort was going poorly.

On Wednesday, Mr. McCain accused Mr. Obama of misreading the war in Iraq. He blasted Mr. Obama for saying that after he withdraws U.S. forces, he would consider sending troops back if al Qaeda establishes a base there.

“I have some news. Al Qaeda is in Iraq. It’s called al Qaeda in Iraq,” Mr. McCain told a crowd in Tyler, Texas.

Mr. Obama responded by saying Mr. McCain was on the wrong track.

“I’ve got some news for John McCain, that is there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade,” Mr. Obama said while campaigning in Columbus, Ohio.

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