McCain criticizes Bush on Iraq war in northeastern Nevada

By: SANDRA CHEREB, AP Writer
By: SANDRA CHEREB, AP Writer

ELKO, Nev. (AP) - U.S. Sen. John McCain reiterated his criticism
of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq on
Saturday, and proclaimed that Donald Rumsfeld will be remembered as
one the worst defense secretaries in history.
But the Republican White House hopeful asked Americans for
patience, and affirmed his support for the administration's recent
troop surge.
"The war is long and hard and tough. I'm not here to tell you,
"Mission accomplished," McCain said, distancing himself from
President Bush's declaration of an end to major military actions in
Iraq nearly four years ago.
The war was "terribly mismanaged" and Rumsfeld will go "down
as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history," McCain
said.
The Arizona Republican made the comments to a crowd of about 300
people at a campaign rally in this rural Republican stronghold.
He also lashed out at Democrats, predicting they will drop their
call for a troop withdrawal timeline and not cut funding for the
war effort because of the consequences.
"The fact is they won't do it because (then) they assume
responsibility for what takes place," McCain said.
McCain, a former Navy pilot, touted his experience and fiscal
conservatism, pledging to rein in pork-barrel spending and cut
government waste.
"I know war. I know peace. I served in the military, I know how
the military works. I know how the world works," he said.
"I need no on the job training."
The Arizona senator repeated his stance that mistakes have been
made in launching the war but that withdrawing troops would lead to
chaos, genocide and embolden terrorists to bring their violence to
American soil.
McCain's visit was part of a five-state, four-day swing to
officially kickoff his presidential campaign. He was to wrap up the
tour later in the day in Tempe, Ariz.
The senator has been trailing in polls and fundraising to
Republican Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York. He
acknowledged his uphill campaign Saturday with humor.
Citing his own failed presidential bid in 2000, as well as those
of fellow Arizonians Barry Goldwater, Morris Udall, Bruce Babbit,
he quipped, "Arizona may be the only state in America where
mothers don't tell their children that some day they can be
president of the United States."
The senator has struggled to maintain his reputation for
political independence while staunchly defending the
administration's increasing unpopular war policies.
In a speech in Las Vegas last week, McCain criticized Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid when the Nevada Democrat said the war in
Iraq was "lost."
"We cannot declare this war lost when young Americans are
fighting and sacrificing over there today," McCain said Saturday
in response.
"Presidents don't lose wars. Political parties don't lose wars.
Nations lose war and when nations lose wars, they suffer the
consequences."
In an interview following the rally, he also criticized fellow
Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who this week said the country
would be safer by only "a small percentage" and would see "a
very insignificant increase in safety" if al-Qaida leader Osama
bin Laden was caught because another terrorist would rise to power.
"The hunt for Osama bin Laden must be pursued until we find him
and either capture him or kill him," McCain said. "It is naive
not to understand how important a symbol Osama bin Laden is to
would-be terrorists and radical Islamic extremists all over the
world."
McCain also took aim at the Bush administration on the issue of
global warming.
"Probably one of the great failings of the Bush administration
in my view is not to acknowledge that climate change was indeed a
threat to our planet," he said.
Though rural areas of Nevada have been friendly territory for
Republicans, McCain could have an uphill battle in the rest of the
state, particularly in the populous region around Las Vegas in
southern Nevada.
McCain is trailing both Romney, a former Massachusetts governor,
and Giuliani in fundraising in the state. Giuliani raised more than
$510,000 in Nevada in the first three months of the year, according
to FEC reports. Romney raised nearly $400,000, and McCain raised
nearly $100,000, the reports show.
McCain has a long record of supporting the opening of a nuclear
waste storage site at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las
Vegas. The waste dump is strongly opposed by Democrats and
Republicans in the state.
A central repository, he said Saturday, is needed for national
security.
But McCain downplayed the significance his support of Yucca
Mountain would have on voters, noting that Bush also was pushing
Yucca Mountain and carried the state.
McCain's trip to Nevada highlighted the state's new influence in
presidential politics after both parties moved their caucuses to
Jan. 19, between the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-04-28-07 1723EDT


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