John McCain Says U.S. Is Years Away From Iraq Withdrawal

Republican senator calls timetable 'artificial,' also comments on Darfur crisis, torture.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY — While most of America lies in wait, wondering when U.S. troops will be extracted from Iraq, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona has supported a different proposal — ship more soldiers in to stamp out the insurgency. He believes the military's stretched too thin and a reduction in numbers will simply prolong America's involvement there.

"It isn't going to happen," McCain said Monday in an interview with MTV News. "I called for [a troop increase] ... because we didn't have control of Iraq. After the initial military victory, we didn't have enough people on the ground to control it. You had looting and this growth of the insurgents. We needed to be able to go into places and not only kill insurgents but then keep control of [those areas]. Because we didn't have enough troops, we'd go in, kill people, leave, and they'd filter back in. Now we're doing a lot more of this 'clear and hold,' but we made some terrible mistakes in the beginning that cost us a lot in American blood."

McCain — who is promoting his newest book "Character Is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember" — said he doesn't foresee a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq anytime soon.

"The whole key to it is the Iraqi military and law enforcement there being able to carry out the responsibilities that American military are doing now," McCain said. "Americans are not so concerned about troops in Iraq [as they are] troops dying in Iraq. We've had military personnel in Korea for the last 50 years. No one has seemed to mind too much. So the key's taking casualties down and creating a situation where Americans can withdraw. We're not there yet. We're a long way from there. It's going to be long and hard and tough. But the consequences of failure are immense.

"The next six months to a year will be critical," he continued. "Because the Iraqi government's going to have to take hold, people are going to have to support it, the training of the Iraqi military is going to have to proceed in a more efficient fashion, and they're going to have to bring casualties down. We could have troops there for many years, just as we've had troops in Korea for many years. We'd have to create a situation over time where Americans aren't dying. A date for withdrawal is an artificial date."

So when will the U.S. be able to declare victory in bringing democracy to Iraq? "When the government is functioning, it will be a very flawed government — remember, they have never known democracy before," he said. "When their economy starts to build back up — that'll be when we can declare victory."

McCain also discussed his own victory last week in getting President Bush to reverse course by consenting to the senator's call for a mandate banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the ongoing war on terror.

"We offered to include a portion of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is the legal code for the treatment of men and women in the military," he explained. "It was already there, so we said it could apply to other agencies — i.e. the CIA. — and what it says is that if a reasonable person could assume that you're carrying out a lawful order, then that would be part of the deliberations of any judgment that's made. At [the post-World War II Nuremburg trials in Germany], it was well established that just carrying out orders is not proof of innocence. But there is a phrase in the code that governs the military, and we adopted that for other agencies. We did not allow for any immunity. We clearly outlawed torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and basically, we prevailed."

He said the ban will also set forth an outline of specific interrogation procedures so that there is no confusion as to which methods are acceptable and which are considered cruel. "One of the biggest problems that I have heard from our military personnel is they don't know what the guidelines are — they don't know what's right and what's wrong," McCain said. "So we hope that we can fix it with this provision."

McCain — who wouldn't address speculation concerning another possible play for the White House — also said the U.S. should become more involved with the ongoing crisis in the western Sudanese region of Darfur, which has been acknowledged as a source of humanitarian disaster and devastating human-rights abuses. It's believed that an estimated 2.5 million people have been displaced and 400,000 killed in the region within two years.

"This business in Darfur is a very, very important point," he said. "After the Holocaust, we said, 'Never again.' After Rwanda, we said, 'Never again.' The question is, after Darfur, are we going to say, 'Never again?' I'm afraid the way things are going, we might. I think it's terrible we haven't done more. We've done some, but we've got to do a lot more. We need to fund the Organization of American States to send troops there. It will be more successful that way, and [then we need to provide] all the logistical assistance that's necessary. Fly in supplies. Fly in equipment. Fly in food. But use other African countries troops to bring it under control. In many ways they're better equipped to do that."

McCain also weighed in on the ongoing debate over Charles Darwin's theory of evolution versus the argument for "intelligent design," and whether the latter should be taught in science classes.

"Every young American should be exposed to every point of view," he posited. "I'm not saying [intelligent design] should be taught in science classes. But I'm saying young people should be exposed to it. I also believe that God had a hand in creation. I certainly don't believe the Earth was created in seven days. But when I stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and look at that grandeur, I detect the hand of God there in the time before time. I see no reason why students should not be exposed to all theories, recognizing that Darwin's theory's certainly one that is generally accepted in most of the scientific community. I think it's not inappropriate to say there are also people who believe this. Let the student decide."

McCain admitted the government's done little to address issues concerning young Americans. Partisanship, he said, is getting in the way of any real progress on issues like social security because "you will not receive the same benefits present retirees [do]. The money isn't there. Shouldn't we work together, Republicans and Democrats, and solve it? Medicare's going to go broke. You're going to be in some tough times, young people."

But according to McCain, the biggest problem facing young people is "adjusting to an economy that is very fluid in nature and an evolving situation where manufacturing jobs are basically disappearing or certainly being reduced dramatically, and getting our young generation of Americans into the high-tech economy that will continue to boom and provide jobs and opportunities.

"If you don't have the education and the training, then the risk of being left behind is greater than every before," he continued. "My generation believed that you could join General Motors or IBM, work for 30 years or so and retire with a comfortable pension. That isn't the case today. We've got to spend more money on education but we also need to reform education. We can't choke off the ability of young Americans to receive an education. There's great uncertainty out there. We have to provide a lot more certainty for young Americans. That's my job."