Republican US presidential candidate John McCain sought on Monday to distance himself from US President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war, telling veterans on Memorial Day he was "sick at heart" at mistakes made in the conflict now in its sixth year.
“As we all know, the American people have grown sick and tired of the war in Iraq,” McCain told hundreds of veterans and their families gathered for a ceremony honoring US service members killed in conflicts.
“I understand that, of course. I, too, have been made sick at heart by the many mistakes made by civilian and military commanders and the terrible price we have paid for them,” he added.
The war is unpopular with voters and in anticipation of facing Democratic front-runner Senator Barack Obama in the general election in November, McCain has increasingly sought to disassociate himself from the administration’s Iraq policies.
“We have new commanders in Iraq,” McCain said to applause.
He continued with a veiled swipe at Bush: “They are following a counterinsurgency strategy that we should have been following from the beginning, which makes the most effective use of our strength and doesn’t strengthen the tactics of our enemy.”
Obama and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton have promised to withdraw all 155,000 US troops serving in Iraq as soon as possible.
McCain criticized these plans, saying: “It would strengthen al Qaeda, empower Iran and other hostile powers in the Middle East, unleash a full scale civil war in Iraq that could quite possibly provoke genocide there, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions.”
Earlier this month he said he believed the Iraq war can be won by 2013, leaving a functioning democracy there and allowing most US troops to come home.
McCain last year backed a decision to send a further 30,000 troops to Iraq to halt a slide toward sectarian civil war in Iraq, and said the surge was “succeeding where our previous tactics failed.”
McCain also blasted Obama for not having been to Iraq since 2006 and portrayed the first-term Democratic senator as naive on foreign policy and not as qualified to lead the military as president.
Meanwhile, Obama was heading to Nevada yesterday to talk about the housing crisis at campaign events in the Las Vegas area and later in the week he was heading to Colorado. McCain was scheduled to speak in Denver and then hold a town hall meeting the following day in Reno, Nevada.
Obama was signaling, even before the Democratic primary campaign formally wraps up, that he intends to fight this fall for the three Western states that narrowly went Republican four years ago.