McCain: Bush Pursuit of Iraq a 'Train Wreck'


Feb. 22, 2007 — -- Proving that presidential infighting isn't just for Democrats, Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took several sharply worded shots at the Bush administration this week, distancing himself from an unpopular president and an unpopular war while wooing the right Republicans who put the president in power and once before denied McCain the White House.

McCain's latest anti-Bush tirade came during a joint appearance Wednesday in California with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

The two leaders met to discuss energy and the environment, but the subject turned to Iraq.

Though McCain is a staunch supporter of the president's plan to add troops in Iraq, the 2000 Bush foe and 2008 contender called Bush's initial pursuit of the Iraq War "a train wreck" and labeled the administration's record on global warming as "terrible."

During McCain's appearance with Schwarzenegger on the docks of the Los Angeles Harbor, the senator recalled "no cooperation from the administration" at recent Senate hearings on global warming and described Bush's recent commitment to global warming as "long overdue."

McCain's verbal lashing put President Bush in the company of his former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whom McCain blasted Monday as "one of the worst secretaries of defense in history."

"We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement -- that's the kindest word I can give you of Donald Rumsfeld -- of this war," McCain told a crowd of 800-plus supporters at a retirement community near Hilton Head Island, S.C.

"The price is very, very heavy, and I regret it enormously," the Vietnam War veteran and former prisoner of war said.

As the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services committee, McCain berated Rumsfeld for not putting enough troops on the ground in Iraq to succeed.

The White House stood by Rumsfeld and called on McCain to apologize for his remarks.

"I just fundamentally disagree with John," Vice President Dick Cheney told ABC News in an exclusive interview from Tokyo.

Cheney continued to tell ABC News' Jonathan Karl, who is traveling with the vice president, that "John said some nasty things about me the other day, and then next time he saw me, ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he'll apologize to Rumsfeld."

Cheney was referencing a February interview during which McCain said the president had been "very badly served" by Cheney and Rumsfeld. It appears there will be no apology from McCain, though.

McCain did not back down from his criticism of Rumsfeld on Wednesday, telling reporters, "I stand by my comment."

Cheney commended Rumsfeld on a "superb job" in his post at the Defense Department and acknowledged, "John's entitled to his opinion. I just think he's wrong."

In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 71 percent of Americans say the country is headed seriously off on the wrong track. Sixty-four percent call the war a mistake, more than said so about Vietnam during that conflict.

For McCain, a Republican front-runner who faced heavy criticism for moving too far rightward when he pledged full-fledged support to the president's controversial Iraq strategy and sought endorsements from evangelical leaders, his airing of grievances and staged appearance with California's moderate governor are far from happenstance.

McCain's efforts to gain support from the right could face serious backlash at the polls from the moderates who once cast him as a "maverick" who upset then-Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire primary and led the only serious challenge to Bush's otherwise smooth path toward the Republican nomination.

McCain's 2008 campaign has thus far been a tricky balance between shoring up the conservative voters who may have cost him the nomination in 2000 and trying to maintain his reputation as a straight talker who has the ability to woo independent and perhaps some Democratic voters in a general election.

During his previous run for the White House in 2000, McCain put off many Christian conservatives by saying he "reject[s] individuals such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who take our party in the wrong direction."

Since then McCain has tried to mend fences, including speaking at Falwell's Liberty University in May.

"He could, in fact, I believe, become the champion, the hero of religious conservatives," Falwell said of McCain.

Right now, though, conservatives continue to say they really don't have any major ally among the three Republican front-runners: McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who supports abortion rights, gun control and some gay rights.

Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family Action recently told ABC News' Jake Tapper, "So far, social conservatives have not found a Mr. Right."

If recent events are any indication, McCain's campaign desperately wants to present Mr. Right but the candidate hasn't yet parked the straight-talk express.

ABC News' Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

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