McCain: Clinton would "surrender" in Iraq

"If we do what she wants to do ... al-Qaida will tell the world that they've defeated the United States of America."

Published January 24, 2008 4:50PM (EST)

Appearing on "Fox and Friends" this morning, GOP presidential candidate John McCain accused Hillary Clinton of wanting the U.S. to "surrender" to al-Qaida in Iraq.

"I've been paying attention to ... the Democrat debate the last couple of days," McCain said. "And I've got to tell you, I am absolutely astonished that Sen. Clinton, a leading candidate on the Democrat side, says she wants to surrender in Iraq, she wants to wave the white flag. After all the sacrifice we've made in this surge, which everybody knows is succeeding, she wants to surrender and bring the troops home, and set a date for withdrawal ... If we do what she wants to do, al-Qaida will defeat us, and al-Qaida will tell the world that they've defeated the United States of America. I have never, never in American history heard of a leading candidate for president of the United States that wants to surrender to the enemy."

Is that a fair characterization of Clinton's remarks? Here's what Clinton actually said at Monday night's debate:

"I'm looking to bring our troops home, starting within 60 days of my becoming president, and here's why ... I have the greatest admiration for the American military ... But there is no military solution, and our young men and women should not remain as the referees of their conflict.

"I believe what you're seeing happen is twofold. Of course the surge, the so-called surge, was able to pacify certain parts of Iraq. If we put enough of our men and women and equipment in, we're going to be able to have some tactical military success. But the whole purpose of the surge was to force the Iraqi government to move quickly towards the kind of resolution that only it can bring about.

"I think what is motivating the Iraqi government is the debate in the political campaign here. They know they will no longer have a blank check from George Bush, that I will withdraw troops from Iraq. And I believe that will put even more pressure on the Iraqis to finally make the decisions that they have to make.

"It is not going to be easy. Withdrawing troops is dangerous. That's why I've been working to make sure that we know all of the various steps we would have to take, because it's not just bringing our troops and equipment home. We have more than 100,000 civilians there, working for the embassy, working for businesses, working for charities.

"We have a lot of Iraqis who sided with us, translators and drivers who put their lives on the line for American military forces. So this is complicated, but I'm committed to withdraw our troops and to put the Iraqi government on notice that their time is running out."

Bonus Fox fact: After McCain attacked Clinton, Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson noted that McCain is "the only Republican who beats Hillary Clinton in the national polls." The picture is a little cloudier than that. While McCain holds narrow leads over Clinton in Gallup, Zogby and Diego/Hotline polls released this month, she holds narrow leads over him in the CNN poll and in a poll released this week by Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times.

By Tim Grieve

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

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2008 Elections Hillary Rodham Clinton Iraq War John Mccain R-ariz.