McCain, Obama Spar Over Iraq

Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama sparred over the Iraq war today, with each candidate getting a full hour on a Sunday TV talk show.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook. One-hundred days from today, voters choose the next president of the United States. You know the candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. The two men lobbed charges and counter-charges on the TV talk shows today, and as NPR's David Welna reports, the hottest flash point was the war in Iraq.

DAVID WELNA: John McCain's first challenge when he appeared on ABC's "This Week" today was to explain what he meant when he said this to CNN on Friday about Barack Obama's 16-month timetable for an Iraq troop pullout.

(Soundbite of television show, "This Week")

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): I think it's a pretty good timetable, as should have horizons for withdrawal, but they have to be based on conditions on the ground.

WELNA: ABC's George Stephanopoulos pressed McCain on whether he's come around to supporting a date for withdrawal.

Sen. McCAIN: It is not a date. It's conditions on…

Mr. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So you shouldn't have used the word timetable.

Sen. McCAIN: Pardon me?

Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: You shouldn't have used the word timetable.

Sen. McCAIN: I didn't use the word timetable. If I did…

Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: You said a pretty good timetable.

Sen. McCAIN Oh well look, anything is a good timetable that is dictated by condition on the ground.

WELNA: As for Obama, who's just back from a highly publicized trip to the Middle East and Europe, McCain chided him for not admitting it was wrong to have voted against sending 30,000 more troops to Iraq last year.

Sen. McCAIN: And he does not understand and did not understand and still doesn't understand that the surge was the vital strategy in us not having to lose the war.

WELNA: On NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama continued downplaying the significance of the troop surge, calling it one factor in a very messy situation.

(Soundbite of television program, "Meet the Press")

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): John McCain's essential focus has been on the tactical issue of sending more troops, and he's made his entire approach to foreign policy rest on that support of Bush's decision to send more troops in, but we can have a whole range of arguments about past decisions, the decision to go into Iraq in the first place and whether that was a good strategic decision.

WELNA: McCain was also on the defensive for asserting that Obama would be willing to lose a war to win an election.

Sen. McCAIN: I'm not questioning his patriotism. I'm questioning his actions. I'm questioning his total lack of understanding.

WELNA: But fellow Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who traveled to Iraq with Obama, lamented McCain's charge on CBS's "Face the Nation."

(Soundbite of television program, "Face the Nation")

Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): I think John is treading on some very thin ground here when he impugns motives and when we start to get into you're less patriotic than me, I'm more patriotic.

WELNA: Hagel said McCain was, in his words, better than that. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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