McCain: If we leave now, we'll be back

The president's emissaries return to the Hill to sell his escalation.

Published January 12, 2007 3:22PM (EST)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace are testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, and they're getting a slightly warmer welcome than the president's emissaries did yesterday. The reason: There's a fairly high concentration of hawks on the Armed Services Committee.

At the top of that list is the ranking Republican, John McCain. The Arizona senator has long said that Bush should send more troops to Iraq, and he praised the president this morning for finally deciding to do so. He said that an escalation is "the best chance for success" in Iraq and that the Iraqi government cannot take the political steps it must take until it has "a monopoly on the legitimate use of force."

Still, McCain made it clear that Bush's plan provides only a "fighting chance" for success, and he signaled that he is not yet sure that Bush is sending enough additional troops. It would be "far better" to send too many troops to Iraq than to "suffer once again the tragic consequences" of sending too few.

McCain said that those who support a phased withdrawal from Iraq have a responsibility to say what they think will happen next: More involvement by Syria and Iran? A "wider haven" for terrorists? A "humanitarian catastrophe"?

"If we walk away from Iraq," he said, "we'll be back."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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