McCain Gets the Surge Timeline Wrong

July 23, 2008 at 10:12 am | Posted in American politics | Leave a comment

Senator John McCain is running for the White House on what he calls his “strong foreign policy” experience. He should therefore know a few things about foreign policy. He should know more than I. While I studied international politics at BYU and got a good grade, I haven’t worked in the field like Senator McCain has. He is a Senator. He is on the Armed Services Committee. He travels the world. He speaks on the topics at hand. He ought to know quite well what is what. But, well, he doesn’t really. As we will see, Senator McCain was asked by CBS’s Katie Couric the following (as linked at Obsidian Wings):

“Couric: Senator McCain, Sen. Obama says, while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What’s your response to that?

In response, Mr. McCain said:

McCain: I don’t know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarlane (phonetic) was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history. Thanks to General Petraeus, our leadership, and the sacrifice of brave young Americans. I mean, to deny that their sacrifice didn’t make possible the success of the surge in Iraq, I think, does a great disservice to young men and women who are serving and have sacrificed.

They were out there. They were protecting these sheiks. We had the Anbar awakening. We now have a government that’s effective. We have a legal system that’s working, although poorly. And we have progress on all fronts, including an incredible measure of security for the people of Iraq. There will still be attacks. Al Qaeda’s not defeated. But the progress has been immense. And to not recognize that, and why it happened, and how it happened, I think is really quite a commentary.

Couric: A commentary on what?

McCain: That Sen. Obama does not understand the challenges we face. And … not understand the need for the surge. And the fact that he did not understand that, and still denies that it has succeeded, I think the American people will make their judgment.”

See, Senator McCain’s campaign right now is based on one last trump card that they have: Senator McCain was right about the Surge, and Senator Obama was not. That’s all McCain has. Alas, his trump card is not really trump after all. See the problem here is that Colonel MacFarlane did NOT meet with the Anbar sheiks AFTER the Surge began, as Mr. McCain states that he did. He in fact met with the Anbar sheiks in September 2006. The Surge was first introduced to Americans by Mr. Bush in January 2007 and did not really begin until February 2007!

Atrios quotes the Hot Soup Press:

The problem with McCain’s statement — as Obama’s campaign quickly noted — was that the awakening got under way before President Bush announced in January 2007 his decision to flood Iraq with tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to help combat violence.

In March 2007, before the first of the additional troops began arriving in Iraq, Col. John W. Charlton, the American commander responsible for Ramadi, a city in Anbar province, said the newly friendly sheiks, combined with an aggressive counterinsurgency strategy and the presence of thousands of new Sunni police on the streets, had helped cut attacks in the city by half in recent months.

A spokesman for McCain did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

Hilzoy comments:

The surge was announced on Jan. 10, 2007. That’s four months after the “tipping point” at which the Anbar Awakening really got under way, and three and a half months after the briefing at which McFarland described the success of the Awakening. McFarland and his troops left Anbar in February of 2007 (pdf; p. 51), before any of the surge troops would have arrived. So I don’t see how this could possibly be true: “Colonel McFarlane (phonetic) was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening.” Unless, as Matt Yglesias notes, McCain credits the surge with enabling time travel.

Spencer Ackerman says that McCain’s statement is “either a lie or professional malpractice for a presidential candidate who is staking his election on his allegedly superior Iraq judgment.” Ilan Goldenberg is even harsher:

“This is not controversial history. It is history that anyone trying out for Commander and Chief must understand when there are 150,000 American troops stationed in Iraq. It is an absolutely essential element to the story of the past two years. YOU CANNOT GET THIS WRONG. Moreover, what is most disturbing is that according to McCain’s inaccurate version of history, military force came first and solved all of our problems. If that is the lesson he takes from the Anbar Awakening, I am afraid it is the lesson he will apply to every other crisis he faces including, for example, Iran.

This is just incredibly disturbing. I have no choice but to conclude that John McCain has simply no idea what is actually happened and happening in Iraq.”

How could John McCain, who is running as a foreign policy expert get something so simple as this so wrong? See the problem is that the Anbar Awakening had nothing at all to do with the Surge. So was the Surge, therefore, really necessary to the Anbar Awakening? No, not really. But McCain would rather have everyone think it did. But it is, alas, a lie.

Senator McCain claims he is an expert on foreign policy. But he is not. He is a dolt. And he is the Republican nominee.

Now, what is worse is that CBS, which ran this question to Mr. McCain did something even more stupid. They apparently cut his answer and pasted in an answer to a completely different question as the answer to this question! What the hell?!?!?! See the report below from Keith Olbermann.

Steve Benen thinks someone should be losing their jobs at CBS for this.

The network showed viewers Couric’s question in full, but instead of airing McCain’s actual response — the one that showed McCain getting the basics of the surge backwards — CBS took a different answer to a different question and pasted it into the broadcast, leaving viewers with the impression that it was McCain’s actual response to Couric’s inquiry.

Someone needs to lose their job over this.

It’s curious, to put it mildly, on multiple levels.

Why would CBS News cover-up arguably the biggest candidate error of the entire presidential campaign?

Why would CBS News mix-and-match McCain’s responses to make him appear less incompetent?

Why would CBS News broadcast a question but not the answer to the question?

Why would CBS News post the entire actual interview online, making it easy for us to see their mischief?

Why would CBS News deliberately take the most newsworthy element of the interview, and leave it on the editing room floor?

Why didn’t Katie Couric hear McCain’s ridiculous answer, and ask a follow-up question seeking clarification?

On balance, McCain’s striking ignorance is clearly more important than CBS News’ journalistic malpractice. But it’s nevertheless hard to know what the network was thinking.

Frankly, it won’t happen. The Media is Mr. McCain’s base.

As Matthew Yglesias noted:

And yet here’s an article McFarland co-wrote which makes it clear that not only did the events he was involved with predate the surge, but he was out of Anbar by February 2007 — just as the first surge forces were arriving. The term “surge” doesn’t so much as appear in his account. Seth Colter Walls notes that McCain himself understood the chronology correctly at one point.

Meanwhile, as Keith Olbermann apparently noted in tonight’s broadcast, CBS (part of the vast media conspiracy that McCain believes is arrayed against him) handled McCain’s blunder by using misleading editing to cover it up: “CBS curiously, to say the least, left it on the edit room floor. It aired Katie Couric’s question, but in response, it aired part of McCain’s answer to the other question instead.” Sometimes things have to end up on the cutting room floor in television, but it seems to me that if you show video of a question being asked, you ought to cut to the interviewee answering that question not just show some other film. Certainly when you’ve got a candidate who’s made the idea that he’s super-knowledgeable about national security policy misstating the basic facts of the issue that seems noteworthy.

There should actually be some accounting at CBS over this, and the Media and Americans should rightly question John McCain’s soundness. If he can’t get something this simple down, how well will he do with more complicated matters? Or, more darkly, if he is trying to bamboozle Americans this bluntly, what is he going to do as president? He either knows that he is lying or he is a damn ignorant fool. I’m going with a combination of the two.

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