McConnell says Iraq mission `already a success story'
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Sen. Mitch McConnell, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said Thursday that the U.S. mission in Iraq is "already a success story" and chided Democrats for discussing when "we ought to cut and run."
In a stout defense of President Bush, McConnell lumped the Iraq conflict into the broader war on terror, and said U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq helped protect America from further attacks by killing, capturing or disrupting terrorists.
Speaking to the Kentucky Farm Bureau convention, McConnell said the transition in Iraq has been "rather smooth" - noting that in less than three years Iraq went from the fall of Saddam Hussein to parliamentary elections planned for next week. By contrast, 11 years elapsed in the United States from the time of the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, he said.
"I think that Iraq is already a success story, and I think it's going to end up being remembered by historians as a huge success story," he said.
Democrat Mike Weaver, who is running for Congress in Kentucky's 2nd District, said such declarations of success are premature. Weaver said Iraq is plagued by high unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and sectarian conflict that could turn into civil war.
"A success story is if we had solved all those problems, but we haven't solved those problems yet," Weaver said in a phone interview. "And I'm not sure we can solve it for them."
McConnell said the question of how long American troops remain in Iraq hinges on the training of Iraqi forces, which he said are improving.
"As soon as the democratic government of Iraq decides that they are ready to grapple with this security problem ... I wouldn't be surprised if they ask us to go, or at least they ask us to cut back and allow their soldiers to be more on the point," he said.
McConnell, who has taken trips to Iraq, said all but three Iraqi provinces are "safe and stable" and that life is "dramatically better than it used to be."
The senator acknowledged that "in wars, things don't go perfectly," but didn't specify any mistakes by the Bush administration. "Has everything that's happened since Saddam Hussein fell been perfect? No," McConnell said.
Of the more than 2,000 U.S. troops killed in Iraq, McConnell said: "We revere the service and we honor the memory of the soldiers that we have lost." He added that the losses have been "quite small" because of the "extraordinary effectiveness of our military."
McConnell bemoaned that the war has become politicized, but he contrasted Bush's plan for Iraq with comments by some prominent Democrats.
"Well the president does have a plan in Iraq, and the plan is as follows: We're going to stay and win, we're not going to cut and run," said McConnell, drawing applause.
One sign that "we're on the right track," he said, is that Democrats are arguing among themselves "whether we ought to cut and run now or cut and run six months from now."
Weaver, a retired Army colonel who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, said that mischaracterized how most Democrats view Iraq.
"I don't think the majority of Democrats would want to cut and run now or cut and run at any time," said Weaver, who is challenging Republican Rep. Ron Lewis. "They want to bring this to a conclusion, but they desperately want for this administration to have a plan to do that."
I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom.
George W. Bush
DESTROY THE QURAN OR BE DESTROYED BY IT