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McCain and Obama spar over Iraq policy

John McCain used the announcement of a limited military redeployment from Iraq to Afghanistan Tuesday to attack his Democratic rival's "reckless" approach to foreign policy.

world Updated: Sep 10, 2008 22:06 IST

John McCain used the announcement of a limited military redeployment from Iraq to Afghanistan Tuesday to attack his Democratic rival's "reckless" approach to foreign policy.

The Republican White House hopeful seized upon President George W. Bush's redeployment plans as a sign of "what success in our efforts there can look like."

"American troops are returning home in success and with honor because of the improvements in security that followed implementation of the surge strategy," McCain said in a statement.

"Today's announcement stands in clear contrast to the reckless approach long advocated by Senator (Barack) Obama. His proposal -- to withdraw forces based on a political timetable, no matter the consequences for Iraq or American national security -- is profoundly irresponsible."

But Obama lambasted the plan to remove 8,000 troops from Iraq and send 4,500 to Afghanistan in the coming months as woefully insufficient to go after the extremists behind the attacks on the United States of seven years ago.

McCain, a Vietnam war hero whose early campaign for the Republican nomination was nearly scuttled by his support for the surge when it did not appear to be working last summer, has repeatedly vowed to bring troops home with "victory and with honor."

Obama has pledged to begin troop withdrawals immediately if elected, and foresees most combat troops being out of Iraq by late 2010.

Recent polls show two out of three Americans oppose the war and want to see a quick withdrawal, but many view the "surge" as a success story.

Obama said the "very modest" Bush plan would still extend a "war without end" in Iraq and insisted that McCain was bent on the same course after much expense in US lives and cash.

Speaking to reporters in Ohio, Obama accused Bush of "tinkering around the edges" and "kicking the can down the road to the next president."

"At this point what it appears is that the next president will inherit a status quo that is still unstable," Obama said.

The United States would continue to spend 10 billion dollars a month in Iraq while the Iraqi government sits on a 79 billion surplus fueled by booming oil prices and feels no US pressure to pursue political reconciliation, he said.

The Illinois senator said that on Afghanistan, he was "glad that the president is moving in the direction of the policy that I have advocated for years."

But he added: "His plan comes up short -- it is not enough troops, and not enough resources, with not enough urgency.

"What President Bush and Senator McCain don't understand is that the central front in the war on terror is not in Iraq, and it never was -- the central front is in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the terrorists who hit us on 9/11 are still plotting attacks seven years later," Obama said.

"Now, the choice for the American people could not be clearer. John McCain has been talking a lot about change, but he's running for four more years of the same foreign policy that we've had under George Bush.

"Senator McCain will continue the overwhelming focus on Iraq that has taken our eye off of the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11," Obama said.

"It's time to change our foreign policy," he said.

"Because seven years after 9/11, we are still fighting a war without end in Iraq and we still haven't taken out the terrorists responsible for 9/11. We heard no explanation for why (Al-Qaeda leader) Osama bin Laden is still at large, because that's where George Bush and John McCain's judgment has gotten us."

McCain responded by saying Obama's comments "demonstrate again his commitment to retreating from Iraq no matter what the cost."

"His focus is on withdrawal -- not on victory," McCain said.

"Senator Obama is utterly confused by the progress in the war in Iraq. He has minimized the success of the surge in stabilizing Iraq, but today said the reductions in violence exceeded expectations. The surge has greatly brought down violence, but Senator Obama would still oppose it, even in retrospect."

McCain has repeatedly said that imposing a timetable for withdrawal would jeopardize the gains made so far and that any drawdown in troop levels should be carried out as a result of conditions on the ground and the advice of military commanders.

"It is clear that we need additional forces in Afghanistan, and I support the new deployments," McCain said.

"Senator Obama believes we must lose in Iraq to win in Afghanistan. I want to win in Iraq and in Afghanistan."