McCain holds town hall meeting at Rice

HOUSTON "Of course, that comment of mine was distorted. Life isn't fair, as Jack Kennedy said," McCain told a town hall meeting at Rice University. "I was talking about American presence after the war."

Responding to a student who had criticized his 100-year remark, McCain added, "No American argues against our military presence in Korea or Japan or Germany or Kuwait or other places, or Turkey, because America is not receiving casualties."

"I think, generally speaking, we have a more secure world thanks to American presence, particularly in Asia, by the way, as we see the rising influence of China," McCain said. "But the key to it is American casualties, America's most precious asset, and that is American blood."

The student had referred to McCain's response at a New Hampshire town hall meeting in January when he was asked about a comment President Bush had made about U.S. troops remaining in Iraq for 50 years.

"Maybe 100," McCain answered. "As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, it's fine with me, and I hope it would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaida is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day."

McCain insisted the United States "will win the war in Iraq and win it fairly soon," allowing U.S. troops to withdraw to military bases.

The student, 24-year-old Kelly Horn, quoted an analogy she said former President Clinton has made.

"He says if your neighbor's house burns down, you might let them sleep on your couch ... but after a year, it's not about the fire anymore," Horn said. "If we don't have a yearly time point or plan for withdrawal ... what will be our benchmark?"

McCain replied: "If our house is in danger of being burned down, then we will do whatever is necessary to prevent them from burning down our house, too. That's not what I say, that's what bin Laden says, that's what al Zawahiri says, that's what all of them say. Iraq isn't their ultimate goal. The United States of America is their goal."

He was referring to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman al Zawahiri.

McCain spoke at the university's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, named for President Reagan's secretary of state. Baker introduced McCain and endorsed him at a news conference afterward.

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