An ABC News Political Radar blog post stated that Sen. Barack Obama made a "near gaffe" in saying, " 'Al Qaeda is not in Ir -- ' ... at which point he caught himself and finished the sentence by saying: 'the key Al Qaeda leadership is not based in Iraq,' " and also noted that the statement was "quickly seized on by aides to presumptive Republican nominee John McCain R-Ariz." But the blog post did not note that McCain himself has repeatedly made actual misstatements regarding Al Qaeda.
Reporting on comments made by Sen. Barack Obama during an April 10 speech in Gary, Indiana, an April 11 post on ABCNews.com's Political Radar blog stated: " 'Al Qaeda is not in Ir --' said Obama at which point he caught himself and finished the sentence by saying: 'the key Al Qaeda leadership is not based in Iraq.' " The post, attributed to "ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Teddy Davis," also stated: "The Democratic frontrunner's near gaffe was quickly seized on by aides to presumptive Republican nominee John McCain R-Ariz., who YouTubed the remarks and emailed them to reporters covering Obama." But Miller and Davis did not note in the post that McCain himself has repeatedly made actual misstatements regarding Al Qaeda.
Indeed, as Media Matters for America has noted, McCain made the admittedly false claim that "[i]t's common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran." McCain made the misstatement twice during a press conference on March 18 and also the previous day while being interviewed by nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Further, as Media Matters documented, during Gen. David Petraeus' April 8 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain asked Petraeus: "Do you still view Al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?" Petraeus replied: "It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago." McCain then asked: "Certainly not an obscure sect of -- of the Shiites all -- overall --" Petraeus replied, "No," as McCain said: "or Sunnis or anybody else?" In fact, Al Qaeda in Iraq is a Sunni group, not a Shiite group.
The ABC News post went on to uncritically repeat McCain's assertion that "[i]f we left [Iraq]" Al Qaeda in Iraq would "be taking a country":
Thursday is not the first time that the McCain campaign has hounded Obama on al Qaeda in Iraq as a way of casting the freshman senator as too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief.
When Obama said at a Feb. 26 debate in Cleveland with Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, that he would reserve the right to send U.S. troops back to Iraq if Al Qaeda formed a base which threatened the U.S. or its interests, McCain scolded the senator who is 25 years his junior.
"I have some news," said McCain while campaigning the next day in Tyler, Texas. "Al Qaeda is in Iraq! It's called al Qaeda in Iraq."
"If we left," McCain continued, "they wouldn't be establishing a base. They wouldn't be establishing a base, they'd be taking a country, and I am not going to let that happen, my friends."
In the post, Miller and Davis did not note that in "scold[ing] the senator," McCain falsely suggested that Obama had said that Al Qaeda is not currently in Iraq. Indeed, Miller and Davis appeared to be echoing McCain's false suggestion by writing in the first sentence that Obama "came close to once again saying that al Qaeda is not in Iraq while speaking Thursday in Gary, Indiana."
Moreover, commentators, including a former director of the National Security Agency, have asserted that the scenario McCain describes is unlikely. Indeed, in his written testimony for an April 2 Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing, former National Security Agency director and retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom stated: "The concern we hear the president and his aides express about a residual base left for al Qaeda if we withdraw [from Iraq] is utter nonsense." Discussing local Sunni sheiks in Anbar province, Odom added, "The Sunnis will soon destroy al Qaeda if we leave Iraq."
Further, in a February 27 post on Time magazine's Swampland blog, columnist Joe Klein wrote of McCain's "they'd be taking a country" remark:
They'd be taking a country? Last time I checked, Iraq has a Shi'ite majority. McCain thinks the Shi'ites -- the Mahdi Army, the Badr Corps (and yes, the Iranians) -- would allow a small group of Sunni extremists to take over? In fact, as noted above, the vast majority of indigenous Iraqi Sunnis aren't too thrilled about the AQI presence in their country, either. (The usual caveats apply: AQI is barbaric, dastardly and intent on violating the Qu'ran by engaging in the annihilation of innocents. We can't get rid of them fast enough.)