By Jeremy Herb
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta clashed over the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq during a contentious Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday.
McCain called the withdrawal of troops at the end of 2011 a “failure of leadership” and warned that Iran’s influence would increase after U.S. troops leave.
“Senator McCain, that’s just simply not true,” Panetta responded. “This is about negotiating with a sovereign country, an independent country. This is about their needs.”
Panetta said that once Iraq's government said it wouldn’t grant U.S. troops immunity from Iraqi courts, the military could not keep troops in the country.
But McCain said Iraq was willing to make a deal for a residual U.S. force to remain had the Obama administration made it clearer how many troops it wanted to leave.
“Your version of history and mine are very different,” McCain said to Panetta.
After President Obama announced all U.S. troops would leave Iraq, McCain publicly called for Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to hold Tuesday’s hearing, where Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified.