WASHINGTON (MCT) Sen. John McCain looked into the future Thursday and predicted that American troops would return home in victory by the end of his first term as president in 2013.
"By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq war has been won," McCain said in a speech in Columbus, Ohio.
McCain's comments quickly drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and questions about whether he was actually setting a timetable for withdrawal, something he has strenuously criticized.
"It's not a timetable; it's victory. It's victory, which I have always predicted. I didn't know when we were going to win World War II; I just knew we were going to win," McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, told reporters. "I know from experience, you set a day for surrender which is basically what you do when you say you are withdrawing and you will pay a much a heavier price later on."
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who favors a withdrawal, said McCain offered nothing concrete to back up his goal.
"This is not the first time Sen. McCain has predicted victory in Iraq," Clinton said. "He promises more of the same Bush policies that have weakened our military, our national security, and our standing in the world. Our country cannot afford more empty promises on Iraq."
And Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "I like John's dream, I like John's goal." But, he added, he hasn't heard how McCain would make that dream come true.
At MoveOn.Org, the liberal anti-war group, Executive Director Eli Pariser said McCain is only offering voters "double talk," rather than his famous straight talk.
"McCain has been President Bush's chief cheerleader and enabler when it comes to Iraq," Pariser said. "McCain like Bush continues to say victory is near, but offers no plan to get there, just more of the same failed Bush policy that got us into this mess."
McCain also emphasized his commitment to working in a bipartisan manner to move the country forward. McCain's track record of working with Democrats on campaign finance reform, judicial nominations and immigration is something his campaign wants to make sure that voters know about.
"For too long, now, Washington has been consumed by a hyper-partisanship that treats every serious challenge facing us as an opportunity to trade insults; disparage each other's motives; and fight about the next election," he said. "For all the problems we face, if you ask Americans what frustrates them most about Washington, they will tell you they don't think we're capable of serving the public interest before our personal and partisan ambitions; that we fight for ourselves and not for them."
McCain said he will work with anyone and listen to any idea intended to solve the nation's problems if he is elected president. He promised that Democrats will serve in his administration and he will hold weekly press conferences to respond to questions about what the government is doing.
"I will regularly brief the American people on the progress our policies have made and the setbacks we have encountered," he said. "When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them. I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the prime minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons."