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McCain: Iraqi government can't order U.S. withdrawal
David Edwards and Josh Catone
Published: Sunday May 13, 2007
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On NBC's Meet the Press this morning John McCain told host Tim Russert that the Democrats' plan of setting a date for withdrawal from Iraq "would lead to ... an enormously challenging situation as a result."

"But, Senator," Russert countered, "the Iraqi parliament, a majority of the Iraqi parliament, has signed a petition asking for a date certain for withdrawal of American troops. If the Iraqi parliament wants it, a majority in the Congress want it... then why do you stand there and say, 'No, you can't have it'?"

McCain replied that he understands "that if the American people don't continue to support this effort that [the US] will be forced to withdraw" but his job as a senator is to tell the American people that his assessment is that withdrawal would be "catastrophic."

Staying in Iraq, he said, is the best course of action "in our nation's national security interest."

"But the duly elected people's bodies, the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi parliament, say they want a troop withdrawal," pressed Russert. "That's more than a poll. Isn't that the voice of the people?"

"Well, the--as far as the Iraqi parliament is concerned, the Iraqi government obviously doesn't feel that way, their--the representatives in their government," replied McCain, seemingly dismissing the Iraqi parliament's ability to govern its own country.

"Second of all," he continued, "there is some, a certain amount of domestic political calculations involved there in what the Iraqi, quote, 'parliament' said. The Iraqi parliament has their ability to, to voice their views, and I respect them."

Later, when asked if he would be "in favor of a referendum amongst the Iraqi people to make a decision as to whether US troops should stay or leave," McCain appeared to contradict himself.

"No, no more than I should--would have a referendum in the United States of America as to whether Iraqi troops should leave, or whether we should be in or out of NATO, or any other issue. The Iraqi government is an elected government, and they are functioning," he said, implying that the parliament he had mocked earlier as able only to give opinions was fully functional.

The following video clips are from NBC's Meet the Press.

A transcript of the clip is below:

SEN. McCAIN: Are al-Qaeda being shoved out of Baghdad into areas outside of Baghdad? Yes. And are there problems in those areas?

Look, this is long and hard and difficult, and I've said it for a long time. And it's no last throes, it's no mission accomplished, it's no few dead-enders. It's long and hard and tough. We are experiencing some successes. Do we have to experience more? Yes. But to do what the Democrats want to do, and that's set a date for withdrawal, even those who opposed the war from the beginning don't think that that would lead to anything but an enormously challenging situation as a result.

MR. RUSSERT: But, senator, the Iraqi parliament, a majority of the Iraqi parliament, has signed a petition asking for a date certain for withdrawal of American troops. If the Iraqi parliament wants it, a majority in the Congress want it...

SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: ...then why do you stand there and say, "No, you can't have it"?

SEN. McCAIN: Because it's my job to give my best estimate to the American people, no matter what the political calculations may be, as to what's the best in our nation's national security interest. Young men and women are risking their lives as we speak in, in, in Iraq. And I know that they will be in greater harm's way if we withdraw from Iraq, as we keep debating over and over and over again. And I know what's best, in my mind, in my experience, in my knowledge, in my inspiration, as to what's best for this country. So political calculations such as polls, I understand that if the American people don't continue to support this effort that we will be forced to withdraw. But it's also my obligation to tell the American people and my constituents in Arizona that I represent, what the consequences of failure will be; and I believe they will be catastrophic.

MR. RUSSERT: But the duly elected people's bodies, the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi parliament, say they want a troop withdrawal. That's more than a poll. Isn't that the voice of the people?

SEN. McCAIN: Well, the--as far as the Iraqi parliament is concerned, the Iraqi government obviously doesn't feel that way, their--the representatives in their government. Second of all, there is some, a certain amount of domestic political calculations involved there in what the Iraqi, quote, "parliament" said. The Iraqi parliament has their ability to, to voice their views, and I respect them. And I, as I say, I--I'll repeat again, I understand how democracies work. I saw it in Vietnam. I saw it in Vietnam.

....

MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqi parliament says they want to take a two-month vacation while our men and women shed their blood.

SEN. McCAIN: I am, I am unalterably opposed to it. One of the real difficulties we face in this conflict, obviously, is whether the Maliki government will act as an inclusive government, and whether the Maliki government will do the things that are necessary to be done. And I'm very concerned about it. All of us are very concerned about it. This government has to pass the oil revenue sharing law. This government has to pass de-Baathification. They have to declare elections in the provinces so that Sunni, who now want to take part in the electoral process, can have their representatives.

MR. RUSSERT: They've had four years to do this.

SEN. McCAIN: They have had this time, and they have done some things. It took us about 100 and some years before we had a bloody civil war to decide the future of our country. This is a fledgling democracy. I'm not, I'm not making excuses for it, but they have not been in this business before. And yet that does not change the fact that, in my view, unless they act, it could jeopardize what is already in jeopardy.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you be in favor of a referendum amongst the Iraqi people to make a decision as to whether U.S. troops should stay or leave?

SEN. McCAIN: No, no more than I should--would have a referendum in the United States of America as to whether Iraqi troops should leave, or whether we should be in or out of NATO, or any other issue. The Iraqi government is an elected government, and they are functioning. And so why we would need a, quote, "referendum" is no more necessary in this country as in that one. Does the Maliki government have to act more effectively, more inclusively? Absolutely they do, and it's of great concern, and I think it's one of the great vulnerabilities as we try to move forward and succeed there. Now, what's success? Economic, political and social progress, which can only be obtained in an environment of security. Neighborhoods in Baghdad are safer. They're not safe, but they are safer than they were before. And the government has to function more effectively, and then the Iraqi military and police take over those responsibilities as we gradually withdraw. That's the recipe for success.

....

SEN McCAIN: ... With this new strategy--and it is a strategy, not a surge--we have been able to see significant improvement. Enough improvement? Probably not. But at least we're seeing some progress. And our commanders on the ground are saying that the Iraqi military is functioning far more effectively, effective, and we are seeing progress there.

....

MR. RUSSERT: General Petraeus said this: "Any student of history recognizes there's no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq."

SEN. McCAIN: And, you know, I've had many conversations with General Petraeus and I don't want to put words in his mouth, but he'll also tell you that history shows us, any student of history will tell, you that in--if--unless you have an environment of security for the people to try to live normal lives, and the economic, politically--political and social environment is able to grow and flourish, then you are doomed to failure. So, when you say it's all we--it's all up to the Iraqis, that's like saying a neighborhood that's been taken over by gangs, it's up to the people in the neighborhood. We have to do whatever we can to provide them with an environment in which they can exist and begin to lead normal lives.