STEPHANOPOULOS: If the commanders come and tell me the conditions have changed dramatically, if Iraq's going to be unstable, I'll take that into account.

You also say, timetable sounds great, but it's on the conditions on the ground.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama said that he would come out no matter what. He said that he would be out -- according to his original plan, it would have been last March. He says that the surge has not worked. He said it couldn't work.

There's a fundamental difference between myself and Senator Obama. And now that it's the general election coming up, I can see why he and his people are trying to blur that distinction.

When the decision had to be made whether to adopt the strategy of the surge, he said it wouldn't work, it would increase sectarian violence. He said all those things that made it acceptable to the left of his party.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But there was a fundamental difference about the original decision to go to war. He said it would inflame the Muslim world, it would become a recruitment tool for al Qaeda.

You said, and you wrote, that it would lessen antipathy in the Muslim world, and that we'd be greeted as liberators.

Wasn't Senator Obama right about that?

MCCAIN: I don't believe so. We were greeted as liberators. We mishandled the war for nearly four years. We mishandled it in a way that was so harmful that I stood up against it. I said it wouldn't work. I said we had to have a new strategy, and I was criticized for being disloyal -- disloyal to Republicans.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You also said many times that the strategy was the right strategy.

MCCAIN: I said that Saddam Hussein caused a -- imposed a threat to the United States of America and our security. And the Oil for Food scandal, the $12 billion he was skimming, the fact that he had said that he had in operation and he wanted to have weapons of mass destruction, the fact that this society that he ruled in such a brutal fashion was really awful. And he did pose a long-term threat to the security of the United States of America.

But that's a job for the historians.

When the crucial time came as to whether we were going to leave Iraq and lose, or stay and do the very unpopular thing of 30,000 additional troops -- asking young Americans to make the sacrifice -- he was wrong, I was right. That was the crucial point...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you don't...

MCCAIN: ... in the strategy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... accept that he was right and you were wrong...

MCCAIN: Of course not.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... on the original decision.

MCCAIN: Of course not. Of course not.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've also taken some heat this week with your comments saying that Senator Obama would rather lose...


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... a war than win a political campaign.


STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't believe you believe that.

MCCAIN: Well, I'm not questioning his patriotism. I'm questioning his actions. I'm questioning his lack, total lack, of understanding. His...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that is questioning his total...


STEPHANOPOULOS: When you say someone would rather lose a war, a candidate, that's questioning his honor, his decency, his character.

MCCAIN: All I'm saying is -- and I will repeat -- he does not understand. I'm not questioning his patriotism. I am saying that he made the decision, which was political, in order to help him get the nomination of his party.

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