From NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy
KANSAS CITY, MO -- In a speech at the National World War I Museum here this morning, McCain gave a relatively optimistic appraisal of the situation in Iraq, saying that the recent reductions in violence have returned the country to something "approaching normal political and economic life for the average Iraqi."
"Political reconciliation is occurring across Iraq at the local, provincial, grassroots level," McCain said. "Sunni and Shi'a chased from their homes by terrorist and sectarian violence are returning. The 'Sons of Iraq' and Awakening movements, where former Sunni insurgents have now joined in the fight against Al Qaeda, continue to grow."
But McCain also reemphasized the growing influence of Iran and warned of the risk of increased Iranian power if America were to withdraw its troops from the region. "Iran's influence in Iraq -- especially southern Iraq -- and throughout the region would increase substantially and encourage other countries to seek accommodation with Tehran at the expense of our interests," McCain said about the effect of withdrawal. "What they are really proposing, if they mean what they say [about withdrawal], is a policy of withdraw and re-invade. For if we withdraw hastily and irresponsibly, we will guarantee the trouble will come immediately."
Finding time to attack his Democratic opponents over their plans to end the war, McCain said that it was the Democrats' "responsibility" to be honest about the consequences of a decreased American presence, and "the American people deserve the truth from their leaders."
Regarding Obama's oft-made argument that McCain's initial support for the war demonstrated poor judgment, McCain tried to keep the discussion on the future. "Some political leaders close their eyes to the progress that the surge has made possible, and want only to argue about the past," McCain said, clearly referring to Obama. "But the question for the next president is not about the past, but about the future and how to secure it."
Obama, however, responded with this statement: "It's a failure of leadership to support an open-ended occupation of Iraq that has failed to press Iraq's leaders to reconcile, badly overstretched our military, put a strain on our military families, set back our ability to lead the world, and made the American people less safe. John McCain was wrong about the war from the beginning, he's wrong to call for more resources in Iraq while the American people are struggling, and he's wrong to support a 100 year occupation of a country that needs to take responsibility for its own future. No amount of tough talk will change the Bush-McCain record of poor judgment, or bring us one day closer to ending a war that is not making us safer."
Missing from McCain's speech this morning was a key paragraph included in the remarks distributed to reporters earlier in the day. After McCain accused his opponents of focusing too much on the past, this paragraph was supposed to follow: "We can have that debate. I profoundly disagree with those who say we would all be better off if we had left Saddam Hussein in power. Americans should be proud that they led the way in removing a vicious dictator and opening the door to freedom, stability, and prosperity in Iraq and across the Middle East."
Apparently, McCain felt comfortable shifting the discussion from the past to the future, -- but not as comfortable defending the past and calling for Americans to be "proud" of decision he supported.