Senator John McCain declared on Thursday that most American troops will be home from Iraq by 2013 and that Iraq will be a functioning democracy with only “spasmodic’’ episodes of violence, a striking departure from his refusal so far to set a date for U.S. withdrawal.In a speech in the heart of Ohio, a major battleground state in the fall election, Mr. McCain set forth a sweeping, extraordinarily positive vision of what the world will look like 2013, when he says he will have been in the White House for four years.
“By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom,’’ Mr. McCain said at the Columbus Convention Center. “The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced.’’
The United States, Mr. McCain added, “maintains a military presence there, but a much smaller one, and it does not play a direct combat role.’’
During his primary battle, Mr. McCain frequently accused Mitt Romney of setting a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, a charge Mr. Romney denied.
In comments to reporters after his speech, Mr. McCain insisted that his speech should not be interpreted as setting a date for withdrawal, and that he was simply projecting victory in Iraq. He took issue with a reporter who characterized his speech as a “magic carpet ride,’’ saying: “I don’t think it has anything to do with fantasy, I think it has everything to do with setting goals and achieving.’’
In his speech, Mr. McCain also projected that “concerted action’’ by the world’s democracies will have persuaded Russia and China to cooperate in persuading Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions and North Korea to discontinue its own.
In Afghanistan, he said, an increase in actionable intelligence will have led to the capture or death of Osama bin Laden, and “there is no longer any place in the world al Qaeda can consider a safe haven.’’ He added: “There still has not been a major terrorist attack in the United States since September 11, 2001.’’
On domestic policy, Mr. McCain projected that the United States will have experienced several years of “robust economic growth;’’ a reduction in the corporate tax rate; and the beginning of a phase out of the alternative minimum tax.
Mr. McCain also pledged to appoint Democrats to his administration, hold weekly press conferences and take questions in Congress, much as the prime minister of Great Britain does in Parliament.
In a clear criticism of President Bush, Mr. McCain also said that “when we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them.’’
The Democrats responded that Mr. McCain was living in a dream world.
“The reality behind Senator McCain’s new rhetoric is that his plans either ignore the problems he identifies or actually makes them worse,’’ Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement shortly before Mr. McCain began his speech.