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McCain and Bush: Common Ground on War, Torture

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McCain and Bush: Common Ground on War, Torture

Election 2008

McCain and Bush: Common Ground on War, Torture

McCain and Bush: Common Ground on War, Torture

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain (left) with President George W. Bush on May 27 before Bush's departure from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Bush was leaving Phoenix after attending a fundraiser for McCain. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Republican Sen. John McCain's rivals have said a McCain presidency would be akin to another term for President Bush. Now that attention has shifted to the general election this fall, such comparisons are likely to loom large in the race for the White House.

McCain and Bush do in fact differ sharply on a range of issues, from global warming to embryonic stem cell research to a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

But they have come together on two of the most controversial issues during the Bush administration: the Iraq war and the use of torture. McCain was one of the most ardent advocates of overthrowing the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. McCain either matched or went beyond President Bush's rhetoric in making a case for war.

In October 2002, McCain railed against Saddam Hussein shortly before the Senate passed a resolution to use force in Iraq. "He has developed stocks of germs and toxins in sufficient quantities to kill the entire population of the Earth multiple times," McCain argued on the Senate floor. "He's placed weapons laden with these poisons on alert to fire at his neighbors within minutes, not hours, and has devolved military authority to fire them to subordinates. He develops nuclear weapons, with which he would hold his neighbors and us hostage."

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Five months later, President Bush announced to the nation that the Iraq war had begun.

But the months that followed saw widespread looting in Iraq and a growing insurgency, and McCain quickly became a critic of the White House's handling of the war. In November 2006, on the day Bush announced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, McCain had this grim assessment of the war:

"It's a long list of misjudgments and errors that were made that has cost us enormously in American blood and treasure," the senator said, although he was not among those who had demanded Rumsfeld resign.

McCain did not believe Bush sent enough troops to win the war in Iraq, according to McCain's close ally, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

"McCain had the courage to stand up both to President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld and tell the truth that the policy was a failure," said Lieberman. "He had the courage to call for the surge even when it was politically unpopular, because it was the right thing to do."

McCain led the call for sending more troops to Iraq months before launching his presidential bid in January 2007.

"It would be far better to have too many reinforcements in Iraq than to suffer once again the tragic results of insufficient force levels," he said.

On Jan. 10, 2007, Bush told the nation that the time had come for a change of strategy in Iraq. "This will require increasing American force levels, so I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq," he said.

That announcement effectively ended the dispute between the president and McCain on Iraq. Jack Pitney, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, said it's clear who prevailed in the standoff.

"Now you could say that there's very little daylight between Bush and John McCain, but that's because President Bush moved in McCain's direction, not the other way around," McKenna said.

The Question of Torture

In late 2005, McCain sponsored an amendment to limit interrogation techniques to those listed in the Army Field Manual, which excludes the use of torture. Vice President Dick Cheney vehemently opposed making the Army's rules apply to the CIA — a position that angered McCain.

"Why is it that some people feel that we should carve out an exemption for a branch of our government to practice cruel and inhumane treatment or even torture," McCain asked.

In the end, the senator agreed to limit the torture ban to the U.S. military. With McCain sitting at his side in the Oval Office, Bush declared that the two men had achieved a common objective to adhere to the international convention of torture whether at home or abroad.

Earlier this year, McCain voted against another effort to bring the CIA in line with the Army Field Manual. But this time, McCain clearly moved in the president's direction.