Sen. John McCain, one of the most vocal defenders of the war in Iraq, says if he had been elected president in 2000 the United States might never have gotten involved.
"You’ll find this surprising, but I think I would have been more reluctant to commit American troops," the Arizona Republican said at a Washington event hosted by CNN and the National Journal on Thursday. The Journal
carried a video of McCain's remarks on its website.
McCain said he still believes troops had to be sent to Afghanistan.
"Anybody who believed after 9/11, and we knew the Taliban sheltered al-Qaida ... we had to go to Afghanistan," McCain said at the event.
McCain said that his military background, along with his experience in Washington would have allowed him to see through the "flimsy" evidence on Iraq, had he defeated former President George W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000 and then had become president.
"I would have challenged the evidence with more scrutiny," McCain said. "I hope that I would have been able to see through the evidence that was presented at the time."
McCain said he is not blaming Bush for how he handled the run-up to the war, which cost more than 4,400 American lives. Further, he's not sure he would vote differently as a senator if he were presented with the same evidence today.
The 2008 GOP presidential nominee told reporters that he voted for the war because he relied on and trusted the credibility of former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Iraq.
"In Iraq in 2003, the secretary of state, one of the most respected men in America, went to the United Nations Security Council and alleged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," McCain said. "If presented with that same evidence today, I would vote the same way. I respected and trusted the Secretary of State Colin Powell."
However, he said, "it’s obvious now, in retrospect, that Saddam Hussein, though he had used weapons of mass destruction, did not have the inventory that we seemed to have evidence, which now looking back on it with benefit of some hindsight was very flimsy."
McCain has opposed President Barack Obama's removal of troops from the war-torn country, and advocates airstrikes against the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, which has overrun most of Iraq's major cities.
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