McCain spends Thanksgiving in Iraq

Sen. John McCain made a surprise trip to spend his Thanksgiving with the troops in Baghdad.

ABC News’ Ron Claiborne Reports: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., spent two days in Iraq this week, meeting with Gen. David Petraeus and sharing Thanksgiving lunch and dinner with U.S. troops.

On Friday morning he held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Vice President Adel Abdulmahdi. His office said he also met with Iraqi police and security forces.

The Arizona Republican senator told ABC’s Aaron Katersky in Baghdad that he had seen further evidence of progress in Iraq.

“Winning is what we’re doing,” McCain said. “Having the Iraq military take over more of our responsibilities, have violence down.” But he added: “We have a long way to go.”

Credit where it’s due: McCain has made many trips to Iraq and has been the most vocal senator in support of the mission there for years. He stumped for President Bush’s re-election in 2004 based pretty much solely on that issue and probably swayed more than a few independents to stick with the President. If McCain hadn’t betrayed conservative principles so many times over the years, he would probably be the odds on favorite in the primary right now. But he has, so he isn’t, and in many ways that’s too bad. In a time war, I think we need a serious leader who knows warfare up close, and McCain does. But his baggage may prove to be too much of a drag.

The actual leader in the GOP primaries, Rudy Giuliani, hasn’t been to Iraq yet. At all. Campaign Spot has a curious note about why Rudy hasn’t made the trip.

Team Rudy offers a statement from Katie Levinson, Communications Director:

“Of course Rudy wants to go to Iraq and he has made that very clear to the Administration for some time. Unfortunately, when he goes is not ultimately his decision and Rudy understands that.”

What does this mean? Giuliani is a private citizen and could have gone to Iraq on his own anytime between the beginning of the war in 2003 and the point at which he announced his candidacy for the presidency, which was in November 2006. So he had 3 1/2 years in which time he could have gone to Iraq without any Secret Service tagalongs. He could presumably go anytime now with minimal or even no Secret Service protection. The Bush administration doesn’t control who does and doesn’t go to Iraq. Numerous Democrats have been, Congressmen and Senators from both parties have been, hundreds and possibly thousands of private citizens have been either to embed as journalists or bloggers or just to work contract jobs or to look-see. The Bush administration hasn’t stopped any of them, and I can’t imagine that it would stop Giuliani from going without some urgent security reason to do so. I must be missing something, because it seems to me that the decision to go or not is Giuliani’s. I’m not saying that his not going to Iraq is any big deal, nor am I saying that it will have much of an effect on the primaries. I’m just curious as to why the Giuliani campaign is essentially blaming Bush on this. Am I the only one who finds this line from the Giuliani camp odd?

(the front page photo is Sen. McCain during an earlier trip to Iraq.)