McCain Defends Opposition to GI Bill

ABC News' Bret Hovell reports: Presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain said that the United States must choose not to lose in Iraq and cast in starkly personal terms what he feels is his responsibility to keep America on a course toward victory.

"I have many responsibilities to the American people, and I take them all seriously. But I have one responsibility that outweighs all the others and that is to use whatever talents I possess and every resource God has granted me to protect the security of this great and good nation from all enemies foreign and domestic," McCain said in a Memorial Day remembrance speech in Albuquerque, NM.

He talked about the mistakes that had been made in Iraq pre-surge – which he mentions regularly on the stump – and said that those cannot deter America's persistence in the war-torn region.

"We cannot react to those mistakes by embracing a course of action that will be an even greater mistake, a mistake of colossal historical proportions, which will -- and I am sure of this -- seriously endanger the security of the country I have served all my adult life," he said.

McCain, R-Ariz., addressed a largely veteran crowd of nearly 1,000 at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial, using the opportunity to talk about the prospects of victory in Iraq, as well as his views on a so-called "21st Century GI Bill."

McCain praised Virginia Democrat Sen. Jim Webb, the primary author of the bill that passed the Senate last week, as an "honorable man who takes his responsibility to veterans very seriously," but disagreed with Webb's plan, which provides education benefits to members of the military after just one enlistment in the service.

McCain's plan would offer more benefits to soldiers who have served longer terms.

"It is important to do that because, otherwise, we will encourage more people to leave the military after they have completed one enlistment," McCain said.

McCain's plan would also provide benefits accrued by soldiers to be transferred to spouses and dependents.

McCain, the soon-to-be Republican nominee, seemed to argue that the potential for military attrition, due even to a well-meaning GI bill, was something he had to fight against.

"It would be easier, much easier, politically for me to have joined Senator Webb in offering his legislation," McCain said.

But speaking about the Iraq war in general, McCain later explained why the GI bill fight was worth fighting, even though Webb's bill has already passed.

"Our defeat in Iraq would be catastrophic, not just for Iraq, but for us. I cannot be complicit in it. I will do whatever I can, whether I am effective or not, to help avert it," he said.

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