SAN ANTONIO, Feb. 27, 2008 -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., continued to attack Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., today for suggesting during a Democratic debate that after withdrawing combat troops from Iraq, Obama, as commander in chief, would be willing to send U.S. troops back into Iraq "if al Qaeda is forming a base" there.
"The fact is, al Qaeda is in Iraq," McCain said. "Al Qaeda is in Iraq today. If we left Iraq there's no doubt that al Qaeda would then gain control in Iraq and pose a threat to the United States of America. Ask anyone who knows about the situation on the ground in Iraq. I look forward to continuing this debate."
The remarks constituted the third time in one day that McCain had assailed the Democratic front-runner for his comment, in what seemed a preview of the general election matchup.
McCain vs. Obama
McCain started the day in Tyler, Texas, assailing Obama for his comments, then repeated the charge at a town hall meeting in San Antonio at the offices of USAA Insurance.
"I guess that means that [Obama] would surrender and then go back," McCain said.
Watch McCain's comments today HERE.
During last night's debate, Obama responded to a hypothetical question by moderator Tim Russert about whether he would go back into Iraq after withdrawing a sizable number of troops to quell insurrection or civil war.
As part of his answer, Obama responded, "As commander in chief, I will always reserve the right to make sure that we are looking out for American interests. And if al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad."
Obama responded to McCain's comments today at a rally in Columbus, Ohio.
"Well, first of all, I do know that al Qaeda is in Iraq. That's why I've said we should continue to strike al Qaeda targets," he said. "But I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.
Obama Hits Back
"I've been paying attention, John McCain," he said. "That's the news. So John McCain may like to say he wants to follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, but so far all he's done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq that's cost us thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
"I intend to bring [it] to an end so that we can actually start going after al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in the hills of Pakistan like we should have been doing in the first place.That's the news, John McCain," Obama said.
McCain also went after Obama for considering breaking his pledge to enter into the public financing system should he be the Democratic presidential nominee.
Obama's campaign received a financial contribution from its one millionth donor today, and his campaign has been floating the idea that there is no need for him to enter the public financing system, because his support is so widespread and from the grassroots.
"Sen. Obama signed a piece of paper and pledged to take public financing for his campaign if I did the same," McCain said.
"He signed a piece of paper, he made a commitment," he said. "I made that commitment. I made that commitment to the American people. I will keep it. I believe that Sen. Obama should keep his commitment also, which means taking public financing. The rest of it is ground noise."
McCain made the remarks today after receiving the endorsement of evangelical leader John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio.
McCain's Evangelical Support
Hagee cited McCain's support of Israel and his opposition to legal abortion as reasons why he was backing him.
The pastor is best known in some Washington circles as a founder of Christians United for Israel and for his belief, as laid out in his book "Jerusalem Countdown" that the end of days scenario as spelled out in the Book of Revelation will occur after Russia, allied with the Islamic world, attacks Israel.
"Russia is going to get in that position and they are literally, with all that massive military force, going to attack Israel," Hagee told ABC News in 2006. "This is recorded in Ezekiel 38 and 39. God himself is literally going to destroy that army. Decimate it."
Hagee added that the confrontation would be followed by a Chinese army of 200 million coming to the city of Armageddon, where they will meet British and U.S. forces in the Battle of Armageddon.
"At that point, Jesus Christ returns to Earth and sets up his eternal kingdom in the city of Jerusalem and there's 1000 years of peace," Hagee said. "The Jewish people are going to see the supernatural hand of God preserve them and deliver them while the enemies of Israel are crushed. That's the end-time story."
Asked if he subscribed to this theology, McCain furrowed his brow.
"All I can tell you is I'm proud to have Pastor Hagee's support," he said.
Hagee added that his "support of Israel has absolutely nothing to do with an end times prophetic scenario. Our support of Israel is because we feel their cause is just. ... I support Sen. McCain because I know that he has pledged to be a strong defender of Israel."