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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Think You Know John McCain?

His Greendale gaffes on the Iraq war

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has repeatedly bashed Sen. Barack Obama, his likely rival in November, for the Democrat’s lack of understanding about the Iraq war. But should McCain be pointing fingers? The senator has made a number of errors when discussing the 5-year-old war, showing that he isn’t quite in command of all of the facts.

McCain has made America’s “success” in Iraq the centerpiece of his campaign, and is touting the relative peace brought about by the troop surge—a strategy he says he’s advocated since the invasion—as an example of his superior wisdom on matters of war and peace. A vote for McCain is a vote for victory in Iraq, he argues, not for the “surrender” and “chaos” offered by Obama and his fellow Democrats.

Factual Errors, Ignoring the Troops
As he told the audience gathered in the gymnasium at Martin Luther High School in Greendale last Thursday, “We are winning.” While that line generated huge applause last week, reporters later pounced on his many inaccuracies concerning Iraq.

He told the crowd that “we have drawn down to pre-surge levels.” But we haven’t. Before the 2007 surge, the U.S. had 130,000 troops in Iraq. Now, we have 155,000. When more troops are scheduled to leave in August, there will still be 140,000 soldiers in combat.

When asked to clarify that statement on Friday, McCain stood by his assessment. “I said we had drawn down,” he asserted. McCain also claimed in Greendale that “Basra, Mosul and now Sadr City are quiet.” If only that were true. On the same day that McCain made those claims, two suicide bombings occurred in Mosul and another suicide bomber struck in a nearby town. At least 30 Iraqis were killed and dozens were injured.

In Greendale, McCain repeatedly rapped Obama for not visiting Iraq since 2006, while McCain has made many high-profile—and highly guarded—visits to Iraq. “[Obama] needs to go and he needs go soon,” McCain scolded. Yet McCain’s many trips to Iraq haven’t made him an expert—in the past, he’s repeatedly mixed up Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as the extent of Iranian influence in the conflict.

In Greendale, McCain also accused Obama of not listening to Gen. David Petraeus and the troops. But when McCain had a chance to listen to Petraeus testify in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 22, McCain, a member of the committee, was AWOL. He was fund-raising in deep-pocketed Silicon Valley.

Yet McCain found time to use a photo of him shaking hands with Petraeus in a fund-raising letter, flouting the rules prohibiting service members in uniform from engaging in political fund-raising activities. McCain’s campaign countered that Petraeus didn’t authorize the use of the photo, so the general had not broken any rules.

And while McCain argues that Obama isn’t listening to the troops, he should be careful about launching this attack. McCain couldn’t be bothered to vote for the popular, bipartisan 21st Century GI Bill—supported by Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton—because it would have interfered with his fund-raising California. But McCain didn’t support the bill anyway, and had offered his own version, which provided fewer benefits for post-9/11 combat veterans who want to attend college.

Not surprisingly, major veterans groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs backed the original, more generous bill, which ultimately passed with votes in the Senate—despite McCain’s opposition.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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