McCain rethinks his Iraq policy
John McCain, a forceful advocate of George Bush's plan for a surge of US troops in Iraq, yesterday disavowed his recent rosy assessment of security in Baghdad in an effort to regain his frontrunner status among Republican contenders for the party's nomination for the presidency.
The Arizona senator's appearance last night on the CBS 60 Minutes programme follows twin setbacks for Mr McCain in the space of a week. A trip to Baghdad turned into a public relations debacle, and he came in third behind the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in the competition for Republican fundraising dollars.
In excerpts released ahead of the broadcast last night, Mr McCain said he misspoke when he said the troop surge had made Iraqi neighbourhoods safe. Such comments, made on the eve of his departure for Baghdad, came back to haunt him during a trip to a market in which Mr McCain, wearing a bulletproof vest, was guarded by 100 US troops and two military helicopters.
However, he insisted that the intense security for his market visit did not contradict assertions that Mr Bush's plan to send more troops into battle was working. "I can tell you that if it had been two months ago and I'd asked to do it, they would have said, 'Under no circumstances whatsoever.' I view that as a sign of progress."
Mr McCain, a former navy pilot who spent five years as a prisoner during the Vietnam war after his plane was shot down over Hanoi, has long urged the administration to send more troops to Iraq. However, his stand, while consistent, has now left him out of step with much of America, including his fellow Republicans.
That disconnect has been reflected in a relative lack of enthusiasm for the man who had been seen as the frontrunner in the Republican field. Although Mr McCain has made no secret of his intentions to seek the party leadership following his defeat to Mr Bush in 2000, he was able to raise only $12.5m in the first three months of this year. That is well behind Mr Giuliani, who only formally entered the race last February and who brought in $15m, and Mr Romney, who raised $21m.
Although he was critical of the president's leadership of the war last night, he said that did not rule out support for policies in future. "I believe we can succeed and I believe that the consequences of failure are catastrophic," he said. "I disagree with what the majority of the American people want.
Failure will lead to chaos, withdrawal will lead to chaos."