McCain and President Bush said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was right to send forces into Basra, while Democrats have said that the move has failed to weaken Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr. McCain reiterated his support for the attack on Fox News Sunday, but he suggested that al-Maliki should have waited until fighting subsided in Mosul.
The war is returning to the forefront of the presidential debate this week, with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, scheduled to testify before Senate committees on Tuesday.
McCain argued that Iraqis have made gains by taking over the port of Basra and forcing al-Sadr to call for a ceasefire. While news accounts state that the ceasefire was also the result of talks between Iranian and Iraqi leaders, the senator noted that al-Sadr would not have called for a pause in fighting if “he thought he was winning.”
Despite the Democrats’ criticism, McCain said that the U.S. military is now following the right strategy.
“We’re paying a huge penalty for four years of a failed strategy that I fought hard against, and I believe this [new] strategy has succeeded and will succeed and can succeed,” McCain said. “But it’s long and hard and tough.”
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for president, questioned McCain’s foreign policy judgment, claiming that the Republican was wrong on the Iraq war, the battle of Basra and on the influence of al-Sadr.
“Our own national intelligence people tell us it is the American presence that is attracting jihadists and creating violence,” Kerry said on the same show. “So if he’s talking about being there for 40 years, 100 years, he’s talking about attracting more and more terrorists and not paying attention to the larger challenges.”
Kerry also stated that McCain had changed from 2004, when, as the Democratic presidential nominee, the Massachusetts senator had considered McCain as a vice presidential candidate.
"John McCain in 2004 was a Senator John McCain who had opposed the Bush tax cuts, who had indicated at that point in time a very different attitude on any number of subjects from global climate change to how you treat the powerful in Washington,” Kerry said. “Nomination John McCain is a different person.”
A Republican National Committee spokesman said that Kerry's attack on McCain belied the “new brand of politics” that Obama talks about.
“Putting forward a bitter politician like Senator Kerry to launch discredited attack lines simply demonstrates that Barack Obama is the next generation of double-talking politician,” said Danny Diaz, the RNC's communication director.