Mccain: Withdrawing U.S. Troops from Iraq Could ‘risk Catastrophe’

Steering clear of the Iraq Study Group’s controversial recommendation to engage the Arab-Israeli issue to win support for U.S. efforts in Iraq, John McCain made an emphatic case for American steadfastness in Iraq during an address to a Jewish group. Speaking Sunday in New York to a group of Yeshiva University supporters, Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) said that withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq precipitously “is to risk catastrophe,” leading to possible civil war and the emergence of a failed state in a strategic area.

McCain defended America’s larger strategy of promoting democracy in the Middle East, even though in the short term it could empower Islamist groups hostile to U.S. interests.

“We must do everything possible to succeed there, and we should not forget that the benefits of success would be enormous for Iraq and throughout the region,” he said. “But the road is going to be long and tough, and it will be costly in American lives.”

McCain offered no clear prescriptions for moving forward in Iraq, in marked contrast to U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), one of the Democrats’ leading voices on foreign policy, who offered a detailed plan for Iraq in a speech earlier this month to the Israel Policy Forum.

Biden called for a federalized Iraq in which three largely autonomous regional governments would separate the interests of the country’s main ethnic groups: Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds.

But McCain, who is said to be considering a run for president in 2008, did hint at how he would deal with Iran, whose regime he described as “possibly deranged and surely dangerous,” and whose pursuit of a nuclear weapon, he said, poses an “unacceptable risk.”

“Military action is not our preference,” said McCain, who urged the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Tehran. “But it is a simple observation of reality that there is only one thing worse than a military solution — and that, my friends, is a nuclear-armed Iran.”

The senator also had harsh words for the Palestinians, insisting that the United States “cannot have normal relations” with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government, which refuses to recognize Israel. He called for the return of Israeli soldiers captured by Palestinians in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and for the disarming of Hezbollah’s militia.

McCain depicted his policy positions as linked by the core values of freedom and liberty animating American foreign policy, ones he noted were shared by the “values-centered” education offered by his host, Yeshiva University.

“If the despair, the alienation and the disenfranchisement wrought in Middle East autocracies contribute to the horrors of international terrorism, we owe it to ourselves and the world to promote change,” he said. “Only this position is consistent with the values on which America and Israel are based.”

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