while he was being introduced at a meeting in Dubuque, Iowa.
WASHINGTON, April 13 — Senator John McCain said that the buildup of American forces in Iraq represented the only viable option to avoid failure in Iraq and that he had yet to identify an effective fallback if the current strategy failed.
“I have no Plan B,” Mr. McCain said in an interview. “If I saw that doomsday scenario evolving, then I would try to come up with one. But I cannot give you a good alternative because if I had a good alternative, maybe we could consider it now.”
In a discussion of how he would handle Iraq if elected president, Mr. McCain said that the success of the Bush administration’s strategy, which seeks to protect Baghdad residents so Iraqi political leaders have an opportunity to pursue a program of political reconciliation, was essentially a precondition for a more limited American role that could follow.
“I am not guaranteeing that this succeeds,” said Mr. McCain, who has long argued that additional troops are needed. “I am just saying that I think it can. I believe it has a good shot.”
Mr. McCain methodically dismissed as unrealistic every other plan that had been proposed by Democrats as a substitute for President Bush’s strategy, including those from Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Barack Obama of Illinois.
He said that if the Bush administration’s plan had not produced visible signs of progress by the time a McCain presidency began, he might be forced — if only by the will of public opinion — to end American involvement in Iraq.
“I do believe that history shows us Americans will not continue to support an overseas engagement involving the loss of American lives for an unlimited period of time unless they see some success,” he added. “And then, when they run out of patience, they will demand that we get out.”
Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican and decorated former Naval aviator who spent five and half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, maintains that the American buildup is necessary to carry out an effective counterinsurgency campaign. He spoke at a time when many Republicans say his support for the war in Iraq has become a drag on his candidacy.
Mr. McCain recently came under fire from Democrats and other critics for what they called an overly optimistic assessment of security conditions in a Baghdad market, which he toured under the protection of more than 100 soldiers. Mr. McCain later said that he would have been prepared to tour the market with much less protection.
In the interview, Mr. McCain said that if he became the commander in chief, he might keep Robert M. Gates as defense secretary. For the post of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he suggested that he would consider Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander in Iraq, and Adm. William J. Fallon, the newly appointed head of the Central Command. They are carrying out the new strategy in Baghdad. Mr. McCain has been critical of their predecessors, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the former American commander in Iraq, and the former secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Mr. McCain also said he would seek to attract corporate leaders to improve the management of the Pentagon, citing figures like Frederick W. Smith, the chief executive of FedEx Corporation, and John T. Chambers, the chief executive of Cisco Systems.
“I would go to these people and say: ‘Look, you’ve made a billion dollars. Come on now, and do what David Packard did years ago. Serve your country,’ ” Mr. McCain said, referring to the co-founder of the Hewlett Packard Company who served as deputy defense secretary in the first Nixon administration.
Mr. McCain also described retired Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander and Marine commandant, as one of his closest friends, adding he expected he would “play a key role.”
Mr. McCain discussed Iraq during an hourlong session on Thursday at his Senate office, sipping cappuccino and talking in measured if intense tones in the presence of two aides. He ended the interview to go to the White House for a meeting with Mr. Bush.
“One of the things that I’m going to tell him, and I don’t often talk about my conversations with the president, is that the American people need to be told more often what’s happening,” he said. “Where we’re succeeding; where we’re failing; where we’ve made progress; where we haven’t, here’s the state of readiness, here’s why we continue to see suicide bombers.”
“There’s got to be more communication with the American people,” he added. “Franklin Delano Roosevelt did it.”
Mr. McCain said that the increase in American forces had led to gains in security. Despite claims of progress in Iraq, however, Mr. McCain acknowledged that the American strategy would falter unless the Iraqis moved quickly to establish a more inclusive government. He expressed disappointment that the effort to enact a new law that would allow more former Baathists to serve in government jobs was stalled and said it was vital to arrange provincial elections so that Sunnis could join the political process.
“So how do you motivate the Maliki government? Well, one of the ways is go sit down and have dinner with him like Lindsey Graham and I did last week,” he said, alluding to his Republican colleague from South Carolina. He said that he and Mr. Graham had warned Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that the patience of the American public was running out. Many members of the Bush administration and other lawmakers have met with Mr. Maliki to make the same point.
“He gets it. He gets it,” Mr. McCain said of Mr. Maliki. “The question is whether they do it or not.”
According to the military’s deployment schedule, only three of the five additional combat brigades that are to be deployed in and around Baghdad under Mr. Bush’s plan have arrived. Mr. McCain said the prospects for the new strategy would be known “within months.”
Even more unclear is what Iraq might look like by the time a new president takes office in the United States. The most optimistic course of events he envisioned involved a steady reduction in violence and a gradual turnover of security responsibilities to the Iraqis during the remainder of the Bush administration. Under those circumstances, Mr. McCain said, the United States military would gradually withdraw to its bases in Iraq, though he did not provide a timetable for how long that might take.
American air and ground forces could continue to operate from those bases when needed but then eventually leave, he said. He said that he had recently met with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, and had been told that Pakistan and other Muslim nations would be prepared to help Iraq if the country was secure.
On the other hand, the failure of the troop buildup plan and an escalation of violence, Mr. McCain said, would present the United States with a range of flawed fallback options.
One plan proposed by some Democratic lawmakers is to withdraw American troops to Kuwait, from where they might carry out strikes against terrorists in Iraq belonging to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Mr. McCain said that this approach reflected a naïve understanding of the difficulties in obtaining intelligence and conducting operations in Iraq. “The fact of modern warfare is that you can’t parachute into places,” he said. “You can’t go in without a solid base of support if you’re going to be engaged in heavy fighting.”
Another plan, advocated by Mrs. Clinton, would maintain a reduced force at bases in Iraq to stabilize Kurdistan, deter neighboring nations from intervening and to fight terrorist groups there. “That assumes somehow that the place has not descended into chaos,” said Mr. McCain, who warned that reducing the force without first stabilizing Iraq would put the American forces in the position of being “rocketed in their bases.”
Putting additional emphasis on training the Iraqi Army, Mr. McCain also said, would not be effective unless security in Iraq was improved. “I’d be very reluctant to send young men into a country where there is chaos and tell them they’re going to be trainers.”
Partitioning Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish enclaves, as some experts have proposed, was “totally unrealistic,” Mr. McCain argued, because the Iraqis are opposed to measures that would lead to the further dislocation of the population and even divide families.
He also suggested that setting deadlines for withdrawing troops — as many lawmakers were seeking to legislate — would backfire, hamstringing commanders and giving opponents a way to wait out the Americans.
Mr. McCain acknowledged that his message — that a long, hard and uncertain road still lies ahead in Iraq — was not a popular one, and could mark the end of his political ambitions. However, it could be as politically treacherous for Mr. McCain to back away from his support of the war as it is for him to stay with it.
During a recent speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Mr. McCain noted that he had recently met Petty Officer First Class Mark Robbins, a member of the Navy Seals who was shot in the eye in an ambush outside Baghdad, in a military hospital in Germany and that he planned personally to award him the Purple Heart.
“Oh, God, I’ve seen a lot of things in my life,” Mr. McCain recalled in the interview. “I’ve seen a lot of things. That kid sitting up there. His head. Blood all over the back of him.”
“Grabs my hand and says, ‘I’m honored you’re here. Thanks for your support. We can win this fight.’ You know, I’m supposed to worry about my political future?”Read full post and comments:
"McCain Sees ‘No Plan B’ for Iraq War" >>