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McCain disputes Cheney on Iraq

Senator calls on White House to stop predicting successes

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• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain disagreed Sunday with Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that the insurgency in Iraq is in its "last throes," and called on the Bush administration to stop telling Americans victory is around the corner.

"What I think we should do," McCain told NBC's "Meet the Press," "is wait until we achieve the successes, then celebrate them, rather than predict them. Because too often that prediction is not proven to be true."

In an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" that aired last week, Cheney said he expected the war would end during Bush's second term, which ends in 2009.

"The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline," Cheney said. "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." (Full story)

Asked Sunday whether he agreed with the comment, McCain replied, "No, but I do believe that there are some signs which can be viewed as hopeful."

He said the U.S.-led program to train and equip the Iraqi military has improved and that more attacks seem to be coming from foreigners.

He accused Syria of failing to prevent insurgents from crossing its border into Iraq -- an accusation the Damascus government has denied.

McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee, was asked if that could mean military action against Syria.

"I don't think military action, but I think there are a variety of ways to put pressure on Syria," he said.

"First of all, I'd go to the international organizations and try to get some kind of sanctions and condemnation of it," McCain said.

"Second of all, I think that we should let the Syrians know that if there is continued passage of people, we may have to do what's necessary in order to prevent that." He did not elaborate.

The powerful Arizona Republican, who lost the Republican presidential nomination to George W. Bush in 2000, is widely seen as a potential candidate in 2008.

The lawmaker did not say he had any definite plans to seek the Republican nomination -- saying he wanted "to work hard and be a good senator" -- but he did convey an interest in the position.

"The question is not whether you would like to be president or not. The question is: Do you think you can win and do you want to run? And none of those are clear to me," McCain said.

"I'm going to wait two years before making that decision," he added.

'Draft didn't work'

McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war after being shot down during the Vietnam War, said the United States is "in trouble" if its military continues to fall far short of recruitment goals. (Full story)

But he predicted that despite recruitment troubles the country would not reinstitute mandatory military service.

"The draft didn't work in the previous form," said the Naval Academy graduate and former Navy carrier pilot.

Instead, he said the United States must work to make service attractive. And he said it missed an opportunity after the 2001 terrorist attacks but that it was not too late to change.

"The biggest mistake I think we made after September 11 was not calling on Americans to serve. We shouldn't have just told them to go shopping or take a trip," he said.

"We should have said, 'OK, we're setting up all the organizations. We're expanding existing organizations. And we're going to give you all a chance to fight as foot soldiers in the war on terror.' I think we can still do that."

Though he supported President Bush's re-election bid, McCain has openly disagreed with the administration on many issues, including Iraq.

"Too often we've been told, and the American people have been told, that we're at a turning point, whether it be the capture of [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein or [his sons] Uday and Qusay or the elections," said McCain.

"What the American people should have been told and should be told ... [is] it's long; it's hard; it's tough. It's very tough."

Durbin apology sought

The former POW said he is concerned that U.S. treatment of detainees at the prison camp in the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- including reports of controversial measures and allegations of abuse -- could endanger future American prisoners of war (Full story)

If the United States is acting improperly, he said, "We will not have as high a moral ground the next time we are in a conflict and Americans become ... prisoners of war."

But McCain said Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, should apologize for comparing the actions of American interrogators at Guantanamo to Nazis, Soviet gulags and Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.

"I don't know if censure would be in order, but an apology, because it does a great disservice to the men and women who suffered in the gulags and in Pol Pot's killing fields," McCain said.

Durbin did issue a statement Friday saying, "I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings. Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support." (Full story)

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