EC: "The troops will come home with honor regardless...Winning, however, is a matter of definition."

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Michael fact-checks Senators McCain and Obama on Iraq. Not surprisingly, neither one gets an A on this test... but how much honesty can the American public take?

CAMPBELL BROWN: Important news today about one of the biggest issues in this campaign, the war in Iraq. And we are showing you the numbers right now. The U.S. now has 146,000 troops in Iraq. Today, though, President Bush announced that, by early next year, some 8,000 troops will leave without being replaced.

The president also announced he's shifting about 4,500 U.S. troops into Afghanistan to beef up the fight there against the Taliban and al Qaeda. He says conditions in Iraq are improving.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Reduced levels of violence in Iraq have been sustained for several months. While the progress in Iraq is still fragile and reversible, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker report that there now appears to be a degree of durability to the gains we have made.


BROWN: So, even before today's announcement, it was clear that either President McCain or President Obama will have to decide the future of U.S. forces in Iraq.

So, we're going to listen to what both candidates are saying about Iraq today, put it to our "no bias, no bull" test.

Who better to do that than CNN correspondent Michael Ware.


BROWN: He has been stationed in Baghdad for years, and just happens to be stateside and here in the ELECTION CENTER tonight.

Welcome to you.

WARE: Yeah, glad to be here.

BROWN: We're going to do this. We're going to hear from both candidates. So, let's first listen to what John McCain said today.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We have succeeded in Iraq. And we are winning. And our troops will come home with victory and honor. They will come home with victory and honor.


MCCAIN: If Senator Obama had had his way, we would have suffered defeat, Iranian influence would have increased, and we would face greater chaos in the region.

Senator Obama has refused to acknowledge that he was wrong about the surge. He said it wouldn't succeed. Thanks to General David Petraeus and these brave young Americans, we are winning in Iraq.


MCCAIN: And we will come home with honor.


BROWN: Okay. So, reality check on McCain. Are we really winning in Iraq, and is the surge the reason?

WARE: Well, first, let me say, the troops will come home with honor regardless. I mean, the way they have comported themselves in this war, they have earned that honor.

Winning, however, is a matter of definition. Now, if by winning, you mean strengthening a member of what President Bush called the axis of evil, Iran, the very thing Senator McCain says that they prevented: Iran is stronger because of this war.

If you mean by dividing a community with blast barriers, if you mean by having to build an American militia, if you mean by destabilizing the entire region, then, sure, that's winning, that's victory. But I'm not sure that's why people went in there.

BROWN: It doesn't sound like you think that's winning.

WARE: Well, at this point, a win may just be getting out while minimizing the damage.

Now, to what degree has the surge played into this? Again, that's a matter of definition. What exactly is the surge? I would love to hear Senator McCain explain that -- 30,000 troops...

BROWN: The increase in troops, the 30,000 troops. That's what he means, though, when he says it, right?

WARE: Yeah, well, if that's what he means, then he has no idea what is going on in Iraq, because what has delivered the successes we're seeing now, as drops of 80 to 90 percent in violence, and who doesn't welcome that, began two years ago or more, when the U.S. began engaging with its enemy, the Sunni insurgency, when it started bringing in al Qaeda, and putting them on the U.S. government payroll, setting them loose on hard-core al Qaeda elements, and setting them loose on Shia militias.

BROWN: So, strategy, rather than the 30,000 troops?

WARE: Yeah, the 30,000 troops was sort of like the icing on the cake.

BROWN: Right.

WARE: But the success that you're seeing right now has been building for two years. And it also includes accommodating someone who was one of your number-one enemies, which was Muqtada al-Sadr, and turning him into a legitimate political figure.

BROWN: Okay, hold on, because we want to hear from Barack Obama. He's also talking about Iraq today. But, instead of hitting back at John McCain, he called in reporters. He went after President Bush. And here's part of what he said.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Today President Bush announced a very modest troop redeployment from Iraq. Meanwhile, we will continue to keep nearly 140,000 troops in Iraq while our military is overstretched, which is still at or even above pre-surge levels. We will continue to spend $10 billion a month in Iraq, while the Iraqi government sits on a $79 billion surplus. In the absence of a timetable to remove our combat brigades, we will continue to give Iraq's leaders a blank check, instead of pressing them to reconcile their differences.


BROWN: All right, so timetable is what he keeps hammering away at.

WARE: Yes.

BROWN: Is it -- would that really help? And if we don't set a timetable, are we in fact giving them a blank check?

WARE: Well, who doesn't want to see the men and women in uniform coming home? That's a domestic issue, though.

But it's so disheartening to think that people honestly believe that a timetable of American withdrawal in any way terrifies or pressures the Iraqi government. I mean, while the U.S. troops are there, sure, they are fine. They are happy to have the troops there for a certain period. It allows them to consolidate their power. It allows them to build upon the militias that they have already developed, to enhance the Iranian influence that they had when they went in there, and to get ready for what comes.

But, if the U.S. troops left tomorrow, they would be just as happy to set the dogs loose. So the real test for America is not timetables. It's, how are you going to manage the dynamics of horror and tension that you're going to leave behind. That's the real issue.

BROWN: Well beyond the timetable. Michael Ware for us tonight. Michael, as always, thanks.

WARE: Great pleasure, Campbell.

BROWN: Good to have you here in person, too.

WARE: Nice to be here.

BROWN: All right. Stay with us. A lot more in the ELECTION CENTER. We'll be right back.