Vilsack Criticizes McCain on Iraq

The Associated Press
Friday, December 1, 2006; 1:04 PM

CONCORD, N.H. -- Democratic presidential hopeful Tom Vilsack on Friday dismissed Republican Sen. John McCain's call for more U.S. troops in Iraq, arguing it would be wrong to "make a big mistake bigger."

Vilsack, who announced his candidacy for the White House on Thursday, questioned McCain's proposal to send another 20,000 combat troops to Iraq to quell the insurgency. The Arizona senator, considered the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, has stood alone in calling for additional troops.

"I fundamentally disagree with Senator McCain on this. I think he is wrong. We cannot afford to make a big mistake bigger," the Iowa governor said to a burst of applause at the New Hampshire Technical Institute.

"We've stretched our military too thin and I'm not quite sure where Senator McCain thinks we can get these troops," said Vilsack, who made similar comments during a radio interview.

Vilsack criticized the Republican during a stop in New Hampshire, the first primary state and one of five on the governor's kickoff campaign tour.

Currently, the United States has about 140,000 troops in Iraq.

Vilsack said communities in Iowa are suffering from a lack of teachers, firefighters and other community members who have been serving extended deployments as part of the National Guard.

Vilsack proposed pulling troops out of southern and central Iraq, where most of the violence is occurring.

"We've created a culture of dependency in which the Iraqis are essentially using America either as an excuse or a reason not to confront the problem.... No matter how long we are there, no matter what we do, eventually they have to decide for themselves, do they want safety and security and stability or not?"

But Vilsack said he would maintain some troops in the northern part of the country to allow for a quick response if the stability of the Mideast is at stake.

A military presence may also be necessary to put pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear program, he said. Vilsack called for more aggressive diplomacy to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Once American troops are out of harm's way in Iraq, he said he'd encourage regional involvement in reconstruction.

"And I'd be asking some serious questions about where our money has gone and what has been done with it," he said.

© 2006 The Associated Press