Fresh off the plane from his seventh trip to Iraq, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., explained this morning why he believes it was the right decision to back the troop surge in Iraq.
"Success is significant, and anybody who thinks that it isn't does not know the facts on the ground," McCain said in an exclusive interview on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
"The progress has been accelerated since we inaugurated the new strategy, which I fought for for four years. We have seen significant progress," he said.
But McCain, who risked much of his 2008 White House bid on the success of the surge, went on to note that there is still much work to be done.
"We have a long way to go," he said. "Al Qaeda is not defeated. They're on the run, but they are not defeated."
And he was hesitant to declare success.
"I'll be glad to acknowledge success if this continues in reduction, but we've still got a long way to go."
While McCain asserted that there are signs of political progress, he also criticized the Maliki government.
"On the ground, there is progress politically, there is a process of reconciliation," he said. "It's hard, and it's tough, and all of us are frustrated by the lack of performance by the Maliki government. But the more secure environment you have, the more political progress you're going to see. That's the classic way to win counterinsurgencies."
McCain previously said that political benchmarks had to be met by the end of this year -- an outlook that clearly will not be met. This morning he conceded, "I don't think they're going to meet all of them, and I do believe that you're going to see a de-Baathification law. I think you are seeing the kind of political progress on the ground that is necessary."
The senator also took the opportunity to remind his colleagues across the aisle what would have happened had the U.S. withdrawn from Iraq earlier in the year.
"All of the Democrats said we had to withdraw six months ago," McCain said. "If we'd have withdrawn six months ago, my friend, al Qaeda would be trumpeting all over the world how they've defeated the United States of America."
The comment, however, was rejected by 2008 presidential candidate Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., who defended his call for a withdrawal from Iraq in a separate interview.
"The best way to achieve a political solution in Iraq is to withdraw our forces," Richardson told "This Week." "Our troops have become targets. Until we make measurable efforts to bring political reconciliation, then our efforts in Iraq will continue to fail."
Richardson went on to explain his hope that withdrawal could be used to spur reconciliation.
"You use the leverage of the American withdrawal to bring political compromise," Richardson said. "The Maliki government, they're not going to have any incentive to achieve political compromise, to share oil revenues, to bring unity to the country, while we still have American troops."