07/18/2014 10:41 am ET Updated Jul 18, 2014

John McCain Says He Would Have Been 'Reluctant' To Invade Iraq Had He Won In 2000

T.J. Kirkpatrick via Getty Images

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says he would have been hesitant about ordering a ground invasion of Iraq had he been elected president in 2000.

“You’ll find this surprising, but I think I would’ve been more reluctant to commit American troops,” McCain said at CNN’s “Politics on Tap” event in Washington on Thursday.

The persistent war hawk, who endorsed George W. Bush after failing to pick up sufficient steam in the 2000 presidential race, said his foreign policy experience would have aided him in seeing past dubious evidence that ultimately led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“I think I would have challenged the evidence with more scrutiny,” McCain said, as quoted by CNN. “I hope that I would have been able to see through the evidence that was presented at the time."

Interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper and National Journal’s Ron Fournier, McCain said he would have relied on the credibility of former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

“If presented with that same evidence today, I would vote the same way,” McCain said. “I respected and trusted the secretary of state, Colin Powell. But it’s obvious now, in retrospect, that Saddam Hussein -- although he had used weapons of mass destruction -- did not have the inventory that we seem to have evidence of. Which now looking back on it, with the benefit of hindsight, [the evidence] was very flimsy.”

But McCain said his comments weren't intended to be a critique of the Bush administration.

“I’m not blaming President George W. Bush," he said. "It’s not for me to critique my predecessors, especially those that I lost to."

The Arizona Republican is once again calling for an increased U.S. presence in Iraq, faulting President Barack Obama for the militant insurgency that has upended the country once more.



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