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McCain: Bush not straight enough on Iraq

Senators of both parties criticize his picture of conditions there

• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
George W. Bush
John McCain

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Several Republicans and Democrats took President Bush to task on Sunday's talk shows over his repeated assertions that all is well in Iraq.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Bush was not being "as straight as maybe we'd like to see" with the American people about Iraq.

McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday" that it was "a serious mistake" not to have had enough troops in place "after the initial successes" and that the mistake had led to "very, very significant" difficulties.

"I think every day that goes by that we don't remove these sanctuaries in Falluja and other places in the Sunni Triangle, the more expensive it's going to be at the time we take this out," McCain said.

He said he "would never have allowed the sanctuaries to start with."

"In the Falluja issue, our general in Baghdad said we were going to go in and capture or kill those who were responsible for the deaths of Americans," McCain said.

"And we went in, and then we pulled out. As Napoleon said, if you say you're going to take Vienna, you take Vienna."

McCain, who has campaigned for Bush's re-election, acknowledged that the incumbent's rosy view of Iraq as "on the path of stability and democracy" may not be accurate, "although I've been with him when he has told audiences that this is a very tough struggle that we're in."

Bush said in an interview Saturday that Iraq is "defying the dire predictions of a lot of people by moving toward democracy." (Full story)

McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam after his Navy plane was shot down, hinted that Bush might be avoiding the specter of putting more American lives at risk.

"Airstrikes don't do it; artillery doesn't do it," he said. "Boots on the ground do it. That's one of the fundamentals of warfare."

"You've got to send our troops in there on the ground," he said. "And that, of course, means the most difficult kind of fighting.

"I think the president is being clear. I would like to see him more clear, because I believe the American people, the majority of them, know what's at stake and will support this effort."

McCain called for an increase in the Army of about 70,000 soldiers and for 20,000 to 25,000 more Marines.

"The reality," he said, "[is] that we're going to be there for a long time -- which, by the way, is not terrible if you keep the casualties down."

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said on CNN's "Late Edition" that he doubted the administration would make any of the tough decisions until after the November election.

"And it's too bad, because it's most important that this administration listen to some of even its Republican critics, which is that we've got a significantly worsening situation in Iraq," said Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," Jon Kyl, Arizona's junior senator -- also a Republican -- said "hand-wringing" about the situation in Iraq would not win the war.

"War is tough, and there are casualties. And just before victory, sometimes, it gets most violent," said Kyl, chairman of the subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security of the Judiciary Committee.

Appearing on the same program, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a fellow Republican, disagreed with Kyl that the United States was anywhere near victory.

"I don't think we're winning. In all due respect to my friend Jon Kyl, the term 'hand-wringing' is a little misplaced here," Hagel said.

"The fact is, a crisp, sharp analysis of our policies are required. We didn't do that in Vietnam, and we saw 11 years of casualties mount to the point where we finally lost.

"The fact is, we're in trouble. We're in deep trouble in Iraq," said Hagel, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has traveled to Iraq twice and is a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he doesn't "buy that" when told enough troops are in Iraq to do the job.

"There's a rhyme or reason to what's happening here," he said on CNN's "Late Edition." "They're attacking police stations. They're attacking people who want to join the army. They're trying to kill people who want to be part of a democratic government."

On ABC's "This Week," Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware both had critical words for the administration's handling of Iraq.

"No. 1, on the police training, we've wasted 17 months," Biden said. "We should be using some imagination. Pick out the 500 most likely leaders in the police force, put them on a 747, fly them to Bonn, Germany, or to Berlin, and tell them to train them and train them as leaders, so they're paramilitary police.

"The president's going to the United Nations [Tuesday]," he said. "You know what we list as our priorities for the United Nations General Assembly? Dealing with sex trade, which is important. Dealing with cloning. Dealing with spread of democracy.

"Not one word of Korea. Not one word with regard to Iraq. Not one word with regard to Iran. It's like Wonderland," said Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Lugar, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said "the incompetence in the administration" led to only $1 billion spent out of $18 billion appropriated last year for reconstruction efforts.

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