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McCain: I would have started Iraq war regardless of WMD
David Edwards and Katie Baker
Published: Sunday January 6, 2008

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According to presidential candidate John McCain, only the handling of the Iraq war was a mistake -- not the war itself.

"It's not American presence that bothers the American people, it's American causalities," said McCain in an interview with Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet The Press" on Sunday.

The validity of this conjecture is questionable, as fifty-nine percent of Americans say the U.S. should ôstick to a withdrawal timetable." But McCain said in a recent New Hampshire debate -- and reasserted as much on Sunday -- that as long as Americans aren't dying, he sees nothing wrong with US troops staying as many as 100 years in Iraq.

"What I believe we can achieve is a reduction in casualties to the point where the Iraqis are doing the fighting and dying [and] we're supporting them," McCain said.

He said it would be "hard to say" how many U.S. troops would need to stay in Iraq, but assured that they would be "out of harm's way."

When Russert asked him if, like Bush, McCain would have supported the Iraq war even if no weapons of mass destruction were believed present in Iraq, McCain seemed to dismiss the question as irrelevant.

"If frogs had wings ... we can talk about lots of hypotheticals," he said. "The point is if we had done it right, you and I wouldn't even be discussing it now."

This video is from NBC's Meet the Press, broadcast January 6, 2008.


Excerpts from transcript:

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MR. RUSSERT: Looking back at the beginning of the war back in March of 2003 --

SEN. McCAIN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: If you had known then, if the intelligence came out and said, "We know that Saddam Hussein does not have biological or chemical or a nuclear program," would you still have voted to authorize the war?

SEN. McCAIN: Well, obviously, given information that we have changes your decision-making process. But Saddam Hussein was still a threat. The sanctions were breaking down. There was a multibillion dollar Oil for Food scandal in the United Nations. Every day, American airplanes were being shot at. Saddam Hussein had used and required weapons of mass destruction in the past, and there was no doubt there was going to be in the future. The problem in Iraq, my friend, was not whether we went in or not, it's the way it was mishandled after the initial invasion.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, it's an important question -- President Bush has said, "Even if I knew he did not have biological, chemical, or a nuclear program, I still would go into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein." Would you have?

SEN. McCAIN: Yes, but the point is, that if we had done it right, it's been well chronicled in many books, you and I wouldn't even be discussing that now-- the mishandling after the war.

Look, I met with a high-ranking former al Qaeda operative in Iraq recently, and I asked him, "How did you succeed?" He said, "The lawlessness after the initial invasion and Abu Ghraib," and so they were able to recruit people because of the disorder and the mishandling. So you would not be asking me if it had been mishandled. You would have said because we succeeded and established the stable Iraq, you'd have said, "Aren't you glad we went in because Saddam Hussein, one of the most brutal, most terrible dictators in history who fought in several wars, used weapons of mass destruction, invaded this neighbor, is now gone from the world scene." That's what you'd be saying.

MR. RUSSERT: I think there would be a debate amongst the American people if we were told he did not have biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.

SEN. McCAIN: If frogs had wings -- look, Tim, we can talk about lots of hypotheticals. Would we have stopped Saddam Hussein from going into Kuwait back in '91 when he went in? Would we have said that the Chinese aren't going to cross -- if we had known that the Chinese were going to cross the Yalu in the Korean War, would we have done it differently?

I'd love to get into thousands of historical hypotheticals -- inaudible -- but what we knew at the time, and the information we had at the time, then every single intelligence agency in the world believed he had weapons of mass destruction.

MR. RUSSERT: So, bottom line, the war was not a mistake.

SEN. McCAIN: The war, "the invasion" was not a mistake. The handling of the war was a terrible mistake.

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