McCain calls Steele remarks 'wildly inaccurate,' stops short of resignation call

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday slammed Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele for his controversial remarks suggesting the U.S. war in Afghanistan was unwinnable and belonged to President Barack Obama.

Speaking on ABC's "This Week" to host Jake Tapper, McCain disputed the assertion that the Taliban have the momentum in the war, but also criticized Obama's decision to set a July 2011 deadline for beginning to withdraw U.S. troops. McCain was in Iraq over the weekend as part of a congressional delegation.

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"What I worry about more than anything else is the -- the July of 2011 firm date, which the president has not -- certainly has not been positive as far as our commitment is concerned. In other words, we need a conditions-based situation, not a date for withdrawal," McCain said.

"A statement like, 'We're not going to turn out the lights in the middle of 2011,' is indecipherable and certainly sounds an uncertain trumpet. So I'm more concerned about the perception of our friends and our enemies, as well as the people in Afghanistan, as to the depth of our commitment. Our commitment must be: We will succeed, and then we will withdraw."

Pressed about Gen. David Petraeus's support for the withdrawal date, McCain said Petraeus believes the withdrawal should be based on conditions.

"I know enough about warfare. I know enough about what strategy and tactics are about. If you tell the enemy that you're leaving on a date certain, unequivocally, then that enemy will wait until you leave," McCain said.


Steele's recent comments that the war in Afghanistan was "a war of Obama's choosing" and "not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in" were "wildly inaccurate," McCain said.

McCain stopped short of saying Steele should resign, even though former RNC Chairman Tom Cole has said so, and said Steele has reached out to him to explain the remarks.

"I think those statements are wildly inaccurate, and there's no excuse for them. Chairman Steele sent me an e-mail saying that he was -- his remarks were misconstrued," McCain said. "Look, I'm a Ronald Reagan Republican. I believe we have to win here. I believe in freedom. But the fact is that I think that Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party as chairman of the Republican National Committee and make an appropriate decision."