Looks like McCain is going to kowtow to the mainstream media on 60 Minutes tomorrow, and say that he overstated the case when speaking about improved security in Baghdad:
In two interviews before the Army took McCain and 60 Minutes on the heavily guarded visit to the al-Shorja market last Sunday, the senator said security had improved in Iraq. Upon his return, he also told a news conference he had just come back from a neighborhood one could walk around in freely.
The remarks made headlines and he now regrets saying them. "Of course I am going to misspeak and I've done it on numerous occasions and I probably will do it in the future," says McCain. "I regret that when I divert attention to something I said from my message, but you know, that's just life," he tells Pelley, adding, "I'm happy, frankly, with the way I operate, otherwise it would be a lot less fun."
He continues to maintain that the president's surge policy has improved safety in Baghdad. "I can understand why [the Army] would provide me with that security, but I can tell you that if it had been two months ago and I'd asked to do it, they would have said, 'Under no circumstances whatsoever.' I view that as a sign of progress," says McCain.
Continuing America's military presence in Iraq has been a key position in McCain's presidential bid. He says he knows he is out of step with the rest of the country. "I believe we can succeed and I believe that the consequences of failure are catastrophic," he tells Pelley. "I disagree with what the majority of the American people want. Failure [in Iraq] will lead to chaos, withdrawal will lead to chaos."
It'll be interesting to see how this plays. I suspect it will anger some conservatives, but at least in this limited excerpt, it doesn't sound that bad to me. McCain continues to speak honestly about the improvements in Iraq and the importance of the mission, despite the fact that he continues to be slammed over it. And while polls suggest that Americans have mixed feelings about the mission, there's no harm in acknowledging that a broad swath of the public doesn't think it's working.
To my great consternation (at times) McCain has earned a reputation as a 'straight talker.' That reputation may give him the ability to speak to the American people about Iraq in a way that the Bush administration cannot.
Update: I see that the Washington Post covers the same topic, with a decidedly different thrust. They suggest that McCain will 'double down' on Iraq - stressing the importance of victory there as a central focus of his candidacy:
The Iraq speech will be the first of three major policy addresses McCain will give in the coming weeks as he prepares to officially announce his candidacy, with stops beginning in New Hampshire and ending in Arizona at the end of the month. He will give a speech about taxes, trade and government waste on April 16 and a lecture on domestic policy, perhaps emphasizing energy issues, a week later, according to advisers.
Together, aides hope, the speeches and remarks will serve as a reintroduction of McCain to voters, helping to ignite some of the same kind of passion his candidacy evoked in 2000. They are also hoping to recapture the limelight from his GOP rivals, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Giuliani is leading in national polls, and Romney raised $10 million more than McCain in the first three months of the year...
Among the voters who will determine the Republican nominee, support for the war and the president's policies remains strong. In the Post-ABC News poll, 70 percent of Republicans said the Iraq war has been worth fighting. And in a recent Newsweek poll, two-thirds of Republicans said they oppose Democratic legislation calling for a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
And McCain's top finance officials say the senator's position on the war has, if anything, helped him with many of his wealthy donors.
This is fascinating. I have argued for some time that US troops would be out of harm's way in Iraq in a matter of months - convinced that they would have to take a more limited role prior to the 2008 election. The Post notes however, that the Iraq mission has strong support among GOP primary voters. Suppose McCain catches fire - and I think it's possible, given the weakness of Romney, the recent misstep by Giuliani, and the absence of Fred Thompson. If he retakes a lead in the polls, it will build pressure for a longer commitment in Iraq. If that happens, then Iraq will be the central election of 2008.
I've previously said that Iraq will fade as an issue in 2008, with the US role significantly diminished by then. If it's a central issue however, then one of the two parties may be punished by the voters for so badly mishandling it.