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Reality check: How clear is McCain's crystal ball?

  • Story Highlights
  • McCain delivers speech Thursday outlining America in 2013 if he is president
  • Speech risky because laid out benchmarks on which he could be later judged
  • Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen takes aim at McCain's bin Laden prediction
  • Analyst Doug MacGregor discusses McCain's Iraq policy
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By Brian Todd
CNN Washington Bureau
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(CNN) -- Analysts weighed in on Sen. John McCain's speech on Thursday in which he envisions the state of affairs at the end of his first term, 2013, if he is elected president.

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Sen. John McCain envisions his first-term achievements during a speech in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday.

Some analysts said the speech was unusual, and somewhat risky, in that it laid out benchmarks on which he could be judged.

"What I want to do today is take a little time to describe what I would hope to have achieved at the end of my first term as president. I cannot guarantee I will have achieved these things," McCain said in his speech in Columbus, Ohio.

The Arizona senator said he believes the United States will have a smaller military presence in Iraq that will not play a direct combat role, and he predicts that al Qaeda in Iraq will be defeated. Video Watch McCain say most troops will be home from Iraq by 2013 »

"By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom," McCain said. "The Iraq War has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension."

McCain also envisions that Osama bin Laden, and his chief lieutenants, would be captured or killed.

But some analysts said making those arguments could be risky.

"It certainly was an ambitious speech," said Bill Schneider, a CNN senior political analyst, noting that many of the things McCain mentioned will be "very tough things for a president to accomplish."

"But perhaps the key point that he made was the tone and tenor of his presidency when he said near the end of his speech, 'If I'm elected president, the era of the permanent campaign will end. The era of problem solving will begin,'" Schneider said.

Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen took aim at McCain's bin Laden prediction.

"Maybe some key lieutenants, but bin Laden has not made the mistakes to get caught or killed, and we haven't had actionable information on where bin Laden is since the battle of Tora Bora in 2001," Bergen said.

Bergen pointed out that President Bush has said the United States and its allies would get bin Laden, but has put no timetable on it -- and Bush has access to daily intelligence reports.

"There still has not been a major terrorist attack in the United States since September 11, 2001," McCain said in Thursday's speech.

It is something that Bergen believes is more plausible.

"The American public is more vigilant ... The United States government has made it safer. It's harder to get into the U.S. if you're a terrorist. Al Qaeda isn't the same organization it was on September 11 of 2001, even though it has resurged recently," he said.

McCain said he's not giving a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. But he says by January 2013, most of them will have been brought home. Video Watch more of McCain's view on Iraq »

But any kind of timeline for withdrawal is a stunning departure for McCain. Pressed about it on his "Straight Talk Express" bus, McCain repeatedly insisted he is not setting a date.

"It could be next year. It could three years from now ... but I'm confident that we will have victory in Iraq," he said.

Analyst Doug MacGregor, a decorated combat veteran, said for victory to be achieved, several other complications have to be ironed out.

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"Winning, from the American vantage point, really consists of coming to arrangements with Iraq's neighbors concerning what will happen in that country when we leave it. That's the most important thing," he said.

MacGregor said making those arrangements with Iraq's neighbors is possible. He believes they all have an interest in a secure and stable Iraq and says they're not likely to cooperate with the United States until they decide to leave the country.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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