LA Times, AP ignored inconsistency in McCain's statements about Korea-like troop presence in Iraq

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

In reporting on Sen. John McCain's campaign's defense of his comment that he would be "fine" with a U.S. troop presence in Iraq similar to that in South Korea, neither the Los Angeles Times nor the Associated Press noted McCain's prior inconsistent statements on that subject.

In April 1 articles about Sen. John McCain's campaign's defense of January 3 comments saying he would be "fine" with a Korea-like U.S. troop presence in Iraq, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press both failed to note McCain's prior inconsistent statements on that subject. During a January 3 New Hampshire town hall meeting, a participant said to McCain: "President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years -- " and McCain interjected: "Maybe a hundred. We've been in South Korea; we've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That'd be fine with me as long as Americans -- as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed then it's fine with me." Yet as the blog Think Progress noted, on the November 27, 2007, edition of Charlie Rose, McCain dismissed the need for a Korea-like troop presence in Iraq. McCain was asked by Rose if South Korea "is an analogy of where Iraq might be ... in terms of an American presence over the next, say, 20, 25 years, that we will have a significant amount of troops there." McCain replied, "I don't think so." Rose then asked: "Even if there are no casualties?" McCain replied, "No. But I can see an American presence for a while. But eventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws."

Additionally, on the March 18, 2004, edition of CBS' The Early Show (retrieved from the Nexis database), co-host Hannah Storm asked McCain: "When you talk about a long-term commitment here [in Iraq], are you talking about something in terms of South Korea, for instance, where you would expect U.S. troops to be in Iraq for decades?" McCain replied: "No, I don't think decades, but I think years. A little straight talk, I think years. And I hope that we can gradually reduce that presence. We're in Bosnia. We're in Kosovo. We're in Afghanistan. And the whole key to it is to reduce the casualties to a minimum or zero level, because American casualties, obviously, have effects on American public opinion. But we cannot afford to lose in Iraq."

The AP article, by Devlin Barrett, reported: "The McCain and Obama camps have been feuding for days over remarks McCain recently made when he said the U.S. could end up having a long-term military presence in Iraq, similar to the more than 50-year presence of U.S. soldiers in Germany and South Korea." It further reported that McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said of criticism by Sen. Barack Obama's campaign of McCain's comments that "given the long history of peacetime U.S. bases overseas, Obama's remarks show his 'complete lack of preparedness to be commander in chief.' "

Similarly, Los Angeles Times staff writers Maeve Reston and Peter Nicholas wrote on April 1 that McCain said Obama "failed to understand that America has kept forces in Korea, Japan, Germany and Kuwait long after wars in each country ended," and quoted McCain asserting: "In all due respect, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of history, of how we've maintained national security, and what we need to do in the future to maintain our security in the face of the transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism."

In contrast to the Times and AP, The Washington Post's Michael Dobbs noted in an April 2 post that "McCain has not been entirely consistent on his thoughts about a long-term U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Interviewed on the Charlie Rose show last November, he rejected the Korea/Germany analogy."

Similarly, on the April 1 edition of MSNBC's Verdict, host Dan Abrams said that McCain is "still talking about keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years, and he's been flipping and flopping on whether it's a fair comparison to South Korea." After airing McCain's November appearance on Charlie Rose, Abrams stated: "[T]he flipping and the flopping on this is just, you know, it seems that it's constant and the media just doesn't pick up on it." Salon.com Editor-in-Chief Joan Walsh responded: "It is constant, and he should -- he gets a lot of credibility for his war-hero status, but he is not being grilled on what he really thinks is going to happen long run, and I think it's going to damage him in the long run. I think, he -- you know, he brought it up in such a glib way, 50 years, 100 years, whatever."

From the April 1 Los Angeles Times article:

In one of their sharpest exchanges of the presidential campaign, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama clashed over the Iraq war on Monday, with each challenging the other's credentials on national security.

Meanwhile, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's rival for the party's nomination, went after Obama's supporters for urging her to exit the race.

McCain lashed out after a Mississippi event that launched the Arizona senator's weeklong tour of the nation to highlight his military pedigree.

Responding to Obama's frequent mocking of McCain's suggestion that U.S. troops might remain in Iraq for 100 years, the Republican nominee-in-waiting said the Illinois senator failed to understand that America has kept forces in Korea, Japan, Germany and Kuwait long after wars in each country ended.

"In all due respect, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of history, of how we've maintained national security, and what we need to do in the future to maintain our security in the face of the transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism," McCain told reporters on his campaign plane.

"And I understand that, because he has no experience or background in any of it," McCain added.

Obama and other critics have dogged McCain over his remark in New Hampshire last year that the U.S. might keep troops in Iraq for as long as 100 years.

McCain has stressed since then that he meant that U.S. troops might need to remain to support Iraqi forces, not to wage full-scale warfare.

From the April 1 Associated Press article:

Obama argued that McCain would merely be another four years of President Bush on economic and military policies. McCain has criticized Obama as being inexperienced on national security, and the Illinois senator answered back.

"Meanwhile Senator McCain has been saying I don't understand national security, but he's the one who wants to keep tens of thousands of United States troops in Iraq for as long as 100 years," Obama said.

The McCain and Obama camps have been feuding for days over remarks McCain recently made when he said the U.S. could end up having a long-term military presence in Iraq, similar to the more than 50-year presence of U.S. soldiers in Germany and South Korea.

"One hundred years in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 may make sense to George Bush and John McCain but it is the wrong thing to do. It is not right for our national security. It is not right for our economy," Obama said to applause at a town hall.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said that given the long history of peacetime U.S. bases overseas, Obama's remarks show his "complete lack of preparedness to be commander in chief."

"His attempt to paint McCain's position as something else is nothing but the disingenuous, old-style politics that he claims to reject," Bounds said.

From the November 27, 2007, edition of PBS' Charlie Rose (retrieved from Nexis):

ROSE: What's winnable for you?

McCAIN: Winnable is a Iraqi government that functions effectively, an Iraqi military that takes over responsibilities from us and Iraqi police that provides an environment of security for the people so that the rest of the process can move forward, and Americans draw back out of the firing line.

Look, it's not American presence in Iraq that matters to the American people. It's American casualties in Iraq. In other words, we've got -- we've had 30,000 troops in South Korea or more for more than 50 years. We've still got troops in Bosnia. We've still got troops all over the world. But they're not dying and they're not being wounded. They're not making the sacrifice that our brave young Americans are making as we speak.

So if we can get the casualty rate to continue way down and almost nonexistent as the military takes over, as the government becomes more effective, that's not just success in Iraq. That's what counterinsurgencies throughout history have succeeded in doing.

ROSE: What did General [David] Petraeus tell you he thought was possible?

McCAIN: He thinks it's very possible that we could have a little uptick in al Qaeda activities, and I'm afraid that might happen. They're getting very desperate. They're on the run. He also thinks that we ought to be careful about setting further troop withdrawals after July, when we go down to the pre-surge activities. And there's enormous pressures to bring about further withdrawals.

ROSE: Down to 130,000, there's political pressure to take it even beyond that by the end of 2008.

McCAIN: Yes. And what he is saying -- and I think it's accurate -- maybe we can. But let's see what events on the -- what the situation is on the ground rather than having it being driven by a political agenda, which frankly is what the Democrats are doing now, unfortunately.

So, General Petraeus is saying that they have achieved significant success, but by no means should we declare that we have -- I mean, after several months of a relatively quiet Baghdad, you saw a suicide bomb in a market just a couple of days ago. Suicide bombers are the hardest thing to counter. Ask the Israelis how hard it is. Anybody who is willing to take their own life in order to take others is a very difficult challenge. Going back to the kamikaze, World War II, and the assassins throughout history. So he's guardedly optimistic, but he's also a realist.

ROSE: Do you think that this -- Korea, South Korea is an analogy of where Iraq might be, not in terms of their economic success but in terms of an American presence over the next, say, 20, 25 years, that we will have a significant amount of troops there?

McCAIN: I don't think so.

ROSE: Even if there are no casualties?

McCAIN: No. But I can see an American presence for a while. But eventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws. But the key thing is to have them off the streets of Baghdad and off the streets of Kirkuk and Mosul, and have the Iraqi military and police out there. That's the key to it, I think.

ROSE: Thinking about the employment of American force if you became president. What are the lessons from Iraq?

McCAIN: There are many. But one of them is you not only can achieve initial military success, but you better have a good plan to follow it up. And that's where we failed.

Look, if we had pursued the right strategy -- i.e., the one we're pursuing now -- you and I would be sitting back and talking about what a great success getting rid of Saddam Hussein and the future likelihood he may develop weapons of mass destruction, threat in the region, et cetera.

What we're talking about is the failure, the abject failure of Secretary Rumsfeld and company, and the president, in the post-initial victory phase, when we allowed the looting, when we said that we wouldn't allow any former Sunni in the military, when we failed to understand the necessity to set up a government quickly. When we -- it's been well chronicled.

From the March 18, 2004, edition of CBS' The Early Show:

STORM: But there's a deadline looming here. The White House is expected to hand over power to the Iraqis on June 30th. Is that country ready? Is that a realistic deadline?

McCAIN: Hannah, we're going to have a very flawed and -- and very difficult democratic process. Americans will be there, militarily, for a long period of time to incure -- ensure security. But we need to hand power over to the Iraqi people and, at the same time, we need to do what we can to enflu -- ensure their security and I -- that -- it's going to be difficult. But I promise you it'll be one heck of a lot better than it was under Saddam Hussein.

STORM: When you talk about a long-term commitment here, are you talking about something in terms of South Korea, for instance, where you would expect U.S. troops to be in Iraq for decades?

McCAIN: No, I don't think decades, but I think years. A little straight talk, I think years. And I hope that we can gradually reduce that presence. We're in Bosnia. We're in Kosovo. We're in Afghanistan. And the whole key to it is to reduce the casualties to a minimum or zero level, because American casualties, obviously, have effects on American public opinion. But we cannot afford to lose in Iraq.

From the April 1 edition of MSNBC's Verdict with Dan Abrams:

ABRAMS: Time now for Teflon John -- while most of the media focus only Clinton and Obama and continue to give John McCain pretty much a free ride, we're keeping an eye on McCain. Tonight -- new controversy surrounding this comment from McCain in January.

[begin video clip]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years.

McCAIN: Maybe 100.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that --

McCAIN: We've been in South Korea; we've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That'd be fine with me as long as Americans --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that's your policy?

McCAIN: -- as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed.

[end video clip]

ABRAMS: Now since then, Obama and Clinton have blasted McCain. Suddenly, McCain switching to offense saying, this signals that Obama doesn't understand foreign policy. It's true -- McCain never said it would be a 100-year war.

But he's still talking about keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years, and he's been flipping and flopping on whether it's a fair comparison to South Korea. Again, if it had been Obama or Clinton, the media would have been all over them. Do you agree with me, Wes?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (MSNBC analyst): I agree that -- look, this shows John McCain doesn't understand the region. This region is allergic to the presence of foreign troops, especially troops from Western countries. So, the idea of staying 100 years, even if there's no fighting, it's going to destabilize our relationships in the region. It shows John McCain doesn't have the expertise that he claims to have --

TONY BLANKLEY (Washington Times columnist): Look --

ABRAMS: Go ahead, Tony.

BLANKLEY: Look, General [Merrill "Tony"] McPeak, who is Obama's senior military adviser, himself, a few years ago said, he hopes we're there for 100 years, it will mean we're successful. So, you know, I don't know whether General Clark disagrees with General McPeak. Apparently, he does --

CLARK: I do.

BLANKLEY: -- and maybe two retired generals can disagree.

ABRAMS: Yeah, but what about the media coverage, Tony?

BLANKLEY: But to suggest that Senator McCain is off base when Obama's own senior military adviser said the statement three to four years ago --

ABRAMS: But look, the point -- no --

BLANKLEY: I think is a little --

ABRAMS: But here's my point, Tony.

BLANKLEY: -- full of it.

ABRAMS: My point is about the way that the media covers this. The bottom line is, if we had seen something like this from Obama or Clinton, talking about 100 years, again, whether you agree with it or you don't agree with it --

BLANKLEY: Look, if I were a Democrat, I'd repeat that message a zillion times 'cause it's a slogan, it's not fair. But it's a good, cheap shot. You know, it's like Al Gore and the Internet. You know, the other side always takes a good, cheap shot.

CLARK: Tony, it's very fair.

WALSH: It's much more fair; it's much more fair.

CLARK: It's very fair. When John McCain clarified and said, "Well, I don't mean a war, I just mean to have troops there," he's showing he doesn't understand the region.

Look, in South Korea, there really is a threat. There's a million troops north of the border. They could come down, and we need a deterrent.

BLANKLEY: Well, let me ask you, General. We've had troops in --

CLARK: There is no threat of invasion of Iraq by any country in the region.

ABRAMS: But also, but Tony, how do you deal --

BLANKLEY: General, we'd had troops in Kuwait for what, 16 years now?

ABRAMS: All right, but Tony, how do you --

[crosstalk]

BLANKLEY: And Bosnia? Should we be pulling troops out of there?

CLARK: We had them there in a very specialized fashion --

WALSH: It's a very different place.

ABRAMS: Hang on one second. I want to play this piece of sound. This is from McCain on Charlie Rose. Remember in that sound bite we just heard, he said that it's comparable to South Korea in terms of the way that the troops are there. Here he is on the Charlie Rose show.

[begin video clip]

ROSE: Do you think that this Korea, South Korea is an analogy where Iraq might be, not in terms of their economic success, but in terms of American presence over the next say, 20, 25 years that we will have a significant amount of troops there?

McCAIN: I don't think so. I think --

ROSE: Even if there are no casualties?

McCAIN: No.

[end video clip]

ABRAMS: I mean, Joan, I mean, the flipping and the flopping on this is just, you know, it seems that it's constant and the media just doesn't pick up on it.

WALSH: It is constant, and he should -- he gets a lot of credibility for his war-hero status, but he is not being grilled on what he really thinks is going to happen long run, and I think it's going to damage him in the long run. I think, he -- you know, he brought it up in such a glib way, 50 years, 100 years, whatever.

And Wes is right. It really represents a lack of understanding of what a provocation those troops are in the region.

[crosstalk]

ABRAMS: Tony, the final 15 seconds.

BLANKLEY: Yeah, I mean, I would ask General Clark, what about the troops that we have in Kuwait for 15 years, and Bosnia for -- since '97 or whatever it is.

CLARK: Bosnia's different; Kuwait's there because there was a threat --

BLANKLEY: We keep troops all over the world.

CLARK: -- in Iraq and we pulled our troops out of Saudi Arabia.

ABRAMS: All right.

CLARK: We need to come out of this region.

ABRAMS: The bottom line, though, is that when it comes to how this story is covered, whether you agree or you disagree, the bottom line is, McCain tends to get a free pass and this is why we call the segment, "Teflon John."

General Clark and Tony Blankley, thank you very much. Good to see you again.

BLANKLEY: Thank you, Dan.

CLARK: Thank you.

From the January 3 New Hampshire town hall meeting:

QUESTIONER: I want to say at the outset that I'm not going to be voting for you. I'm going to be voting in the Democratic primary in order to defeat the senator from New York [Sen. Hillary Clinton], who I refer to as a Joe Lieberman Democrat.

I have listened to Hillary Clinton say probably a hundred times that she will end the war and I've heard you say that we can't leave Iraq. In both cases I think the devil's in the details. I have, I looked at your web site. I read everything on your web site today and I couldn't find any answers to my questions.

What I would like to know is, I've heard you say a million times all the reasons why we can't leave Iraq. But I've never heard you say what it is you hope to accomplish in Iraq and how long it's going to take. So if you could please address that in terms of specifics, I'd appreciate it.

McCAIN: Yes, sir, and thank you for coming tonight and thank you for your frankness and candor. May I just say that this is the classic counterinsurgency we're engaged in right now. This is not a new strategy, General Petraeus has updated it, but the fact is it's a classic counterinsurgency.

And you get areas under a secure environment and that secure environment then allows the economic political and social process to move forward. In case you missed it, New Year's Eve, people were out in the streets in Baghdad by the thousands for the first time in years. That's because we provided them with a safe and secure environment. Is it totally safe? No. I talked earlier about the suicide bombs and the continued threats.

But -- and then what happens is American troops withdraw and they withdraw to bases and then they eventually withdraw, or we reach an arrangement like we have with South Korea, with Japan. We still have troops in Bosnia. But the fact is, it's American casualties that the American people care about and those casualties are on the way down rather dramatically.

And the option and I'll say this again because you've got to consider the option. If we had withdrawn six months ago, I'd look you in the eye and tell you I know that Al Qaeda would have, would have said we beat the United States of America. If we'd gone along with Harry Reid and said the war was lost to Al Qaeda, then we would be fighting that battle all over the Middle East, and I am convinced of that and so is General Petraeus as well as others.

So I can tell you that it's going to be long and hard and tough. I can tell you the option of defeat is incredible and horrendous. And I can tell you and look you in the eye and tell you that this strategy is succeeding. And what we care about is not American presence, we care about American casualties and those casualties I believe will be dramatically and continued to be reduced.

Please follow up.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I do not believe that one U.S. soldier being killed almost every day is success. There were three U.S. soldiers killed today. I want to know how long are we going to be there? Are you, are you --

McCAIN: How long do you want us to be in South Korea? How long do you want us to be in Bosnia?

QUESTIONER: Nobody is -- there's no fighting going on in South Korea. Let's not talk about South Korea. Let's come back to Iraq.

McCAIN: Thank you sir, and I can look you in the eye and tell you that those casualties tragically continue as I made very clear in my opening remarks. But they are much less, and they are dramatically reduced, and we will eventually eliminate them.

And again the option of setting a date for withdrawal is a date for surrender and we would then have many more casualties and many more American sacrifice, if we withdraw with, with a setting a date for surrender.

Now you and I have an honest and open disagreement, but I can tell you that six months ago that people like you who believe like you do said the surge would never succeed. It is succeeding. And I've been there and I have seen it with my very own eyes. You want to follow up again?

QUESTIONER: Yes, please. President Bush has talked about our --

McCAIN: Please, please, please start over.

QUESTIONER: President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years --

McCAIN: Maybe a hundred. We've been in South Korea; we've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That'd be fine with me as long as Americans --

QUESTIONER: So that's your policy?

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

QUESTIONER: By the way, I forgot to say that I hope that you kick Mitt Romney's butt back to Massachusetts --

McCAIN: I knew there's a reason why I called on you.

QUESTIONER: -- or Utah or Michigan or wherever he is. That man does not -- cannot lie straight in bed. But I want to go back to Iraq. I want to go back to Iraq -- now, 50 years? What if U.S. soldiers are being killed at the same rate one per day four years from now?

McCAIN: Oh, well, I can't tell you the ratio or what it is, but I can tell you I understand American public opinion, sir, and --

WOMAN: [inaudible]

McCAIN: Yes, ma'am, and so I understand what's at stake here. That's why -- and I understand that American public opinion will not sustain a conflict where Americans continued to be sacrificed without showing them that we can succeed.

QUESTIONER: So what I hear is an open-ended commitment? That's my last [inaudible]. An open-ended commitment? --

McCAIN: I have a quote open-ended commitment in Asia, I have an open-ended commitment in South Korea, I have an open-ended commitment in Bosnia. I have an open-ended commitment in Europe. I have an open-ended commitment everywhere [inaudible].

QUESTIONER: Thank you for going on record. Thank you.

McCAIN: Thank you, sir. Thank you for this exchange.

WOMAN: [inaudible]

McCAIN: Thank you, ma'am. This kind of dialogue has to take place in America today and I thank you for expressing your views and I appreciate it.

Network/Outlet
Los Angeles Times, Associated Press
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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