WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is choosing to lose the Iraq war by planning to withdraw American combat troops, a high-profile supporter of Republican candidate Sen. John McCain said Sunday.
Sen. Evan Bayh, left, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman debate Iraq policy on "Fox News Sunday."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent from Connecticut, said McCain's support for bolstering U.S. forces in Iraq last year to subdue insurgents has made Obama's expected visit to Iraq this week possible.
"John McCain had the guts to argue against public opinion, to put his whole campaign on the line, because, as he says, he'd rather lose an election than lose in a war that he thinks is this important to the United States," Lieberman said on "Fox News Sunday."
"If Barack Obama's policy in Iraq had been implemented, he couldn't be in Iraq today," Lieberman said, adding that Obama "was prepared to accept retreat and defeat."
Obama's expected arrival in Baghdad is part of a multi-country trip that included a Saturday stop in Afghanistan, where the Illinois senator says he would send more U.S. troops to bolster the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The remarks by Lieberman -- who ran for vice president as a Democrat in 2000 -- drew a sharp response from Sen. Evan Bayh, an Obama supporter who appeared with Lieberman on the show.
Obama's initial opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq "was right from the beginning," said Bayh, D-Indiana. Watch Bayh discuss Lieberman's remarks »
Bayh said President Bush's announcement Friday that the United States and Iraq were discussing a "time horizon" for the withdrawal of American troops suggests that the White House is coming around to Obama's point of view.
Obama has said the United States can withdraw combat troops from Iraq within 16 months while leaving a residual force to engage in counterterrorism activities and protect diplomats.
"Clearly, they want a more definitive timeline," Bayh said. "And even President Bush now is coming up with a variety of euphemisms: aspirational goals, time horizons. I mean, it's starting to sound pretty much like a timeline to me."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared to back Obama's call for a 16-month timetable in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel over the weekend.
An Iraqi government spokesman said Saturday that the prime minister's comments to Der Spiegel had been "misunderstood" and "mistranslated." The White House said al-Maliki has made clear that any withdrawals would be conditioned on "continuing positive developments."
But in a brief statement Sunday, the magazine said it "stands by its version of this interview."
The magazine had reported that al-Maliki brought up Obama's 16-month idea and said it "would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."
Rep. Roy Blunt, the Republican whip in the House of Representatives, said the weekend controversy over the Der Spiegel interview was itself a sign of progress in the war in Iraq.
"Maliki's comments indicate that suddenly we've got a stronger government there," Blunt, of Missouri, said on CNN's "Late Edition." "I wonder how that happened."
The U.S. is withdrawing the last of its five "surge" brigades: those sent to Iraq in 2007 to bolster U.S. forces there. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on "Fox News Sunday" that U.S. planners are examining whether American withdrawals are feasible after the final surge brigade is gone.
But he said that "conditions on the ground are very important" and that setting a more definite timeline "could be very dangerous."
"I'd worry about any kind of rapid movement out and creating instability where we have stability," Mullen said. "We're engaged very much right now with the Iraqi people. The Iraqi leadership is starting to generate the kind of political progress that we need to make. The economy is starting to move in the right direction. So all those things are moving in the right direction."
CNN's Morgan Neill contributed to this report.
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