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McCain in Baghdad in 2007 (AP photo)

Last call for questions on Iraq

ASK THIS | October 29, 2008

Time is running out for reporters to get McCain to spell out his plans for victory -- and to explain the moral justification for the war in the first place.

By Arnold Friedman

Time is running out for reporters to press John McCain for answers to fundamental Iraq war policy questions.

In the final weeks of his presidential drive McCain has been re-emphasizing his differences with President Bush over how the war in Iraq was conducted. He reminds voters of his opposition to the early strategy that limited the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and his support for the eventual increase in troops—the surge—last year.

But if McCain really wants to put distance between himself and the unpopular president, for starters he should address this question: Absent weapons of mass destruction and a Saddam Hussein connection to the 9/11 attacks, what was the moral justification for invading, occupying and waging war in Iraq? I don’t think he has answered that—and reporters haven’t pressed him on it, as far as I can determine.

McCain should also be asked why he didn’t repudiate his original support for the war after learning how Congress and the nation had been deceived about the justification for invading Iraq and toppling Hussein’s regime.

In addition, McCain’s current Iraq mantra, “victory with honor”, leads to other questions:

Q. How can you have victory with honor in a war that was illegitimate from the start?

Q. What does McCain mean by “victory?” Is it the elimination of all al-Qaeda elements? Is it when Iraq’s government and armed forces are effective enough to prevent the outbreak of civil war once U.S. troops are removed? McCain embraces all of that on his Web site, stating, “When Iraqi forces can safeguard their own country, American troops can return home.” Reporters need to get him to clarify that. Is there any limit to the time he would have American troops in Iraq? No limit at all?

In the three presidential debates, McCain was given a reprieve on these issues. Neither Barak Obama nor any of the three television news icons who moderated the debates, PBS’ Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw of NBC News and Bob Schieffer of CBS News, put the questions to McCain.

Even with the economy in such a mess, conduct of the Iraq war is too profound to pass over in this election campaign. Obama has defined where he would stand as commander in chief more clearly than McCain. He was opposed to the Iraq war from the start and has pledged as president to remove U.S. troops as quickly as can be done responsibly, probably within 16 months.

McCain sometimes defends his hardline stance by saying he “knows how to win wars”—and letting it go at that. Reporters need to push him for answers. The issue is too important for the press to let it be shunted aside, recession or no recession.

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