Media report McCain "mocking" Obama for laying out Iraq, Afghanistan policy before visiting, but McCain has done the same

››› ››› LILY YAN

Several media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and The Washington Post, have uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's speech attacking Sen. Barack Obama for "outlining a plan" for Afghanistan and Iraq before his upcoming visit to the region without noting that in the same speech, McCain outlined his own "Comprehensive Strategy For Victory In Afghanistan," but hasn't visited that country since December 2006.

Several media outlets have uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's July 15 speech attacking Sen. Barack Obama for "outlining a plan" for Afghanistan and Iraq before his upcoming visit to the region without noting that in the same speech, McCain outlined his own "Comprehensive Strategy For Victory In Afghanistan," but hasn't visited that country since December 2006. McCain said, "That strategy will have several components. Our commanders on the ground in Afghanistan say that they need at least three additional brigades."

In a report that aired on the July 15 editions of both CNN's The Situation Room and Lou Dobbs Tonight, correspondent Dana Bash reported that McCain "mocked Obama for outlining his plan for Afghanistan before ever visiting the country," then aired a clip of McCain saying, "Fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around. First you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy." Similarly, Fox News' chief political correspondent Carl Cameron reported, "McCain ridicules Obama for rookie policy changes on the gravest of issues -- war -- before even seeing the current reality in the region for himself," and then played the same clip of McCain that Bash aired. Additionally, during the July 15 edition of MSNBC Live, host David Shuster said that McCain "chided" Obama, before playing the same clip of McCain. Shuster then asked Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA): "[O]n McCain's point, wouldn't it have made more sense for Barack Obama to wait two weeks until after meeting with U.S. commanders next week?" And Washington Post reporters Jonathan Weisman and Juliet Eilperin wrote in a July 16 article: "McCain also pressed his attack on Obama's foreign policy experience and judgment yesterday, mocking him for laying out plans ahead of an upcoming fact-finding trip to Europe, the Middle East and Afghanistan." But none of these media figures noted that, in the same speech, McCain laid out his plan for Afghanistan even though he had not been there since December 2006 or that he has also discussed Iraq strategies just before trips to that country. Instances of McCain discussing Iraq strategies just before visiting it include the following:

Before McCain's December 2006 trip:

  • During a speech to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs on December 5, 2006, McCain said: "So, let me say this: without additional combat forces we will not win this war. We can, perhaps, attempt to mitigate somewhat the terrible consequences of our defeat, but even that is an uncertain prospect. We don't have adequate forces in Iraq to clear and hold insurgent strongholds; to provide security for rebuilding local institutions and economies; to arrest sectarian violence in Baghdad and disarm Sunni and Shia militias; to train the Iraqi Army, and to embed American personnel in weak, and often corrupt Iraqi police units. We need to do all these things if we are to succeed. And we will need more troops to do them."
  • The next day, McCain told reporters, "It is very obvious the status quo is not satisfactory and the Iraqi Study Group said that. We must have more troops over there; that has to be accompanied by a larger Marine Corps and Army -- maybe 20,000 more Marines and 80,000 more Army troops -- so we can handle whatever's necessary."
  • During a December 7, 2006, Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Iraq Study Group report, McCain spoke of the "situation on the ground" in Iraq. He stated of the report: "But most of all, this issue of saying that we don't support increased number of troops -- because we've always known, now, that there was not enough troops there, that is the overall consensus of opinion -- to say that we don't have enough troops but we'll threaten to have less unless you somehow react in a way that we want you to is a degree of impracticality. Withdraw the troops and then still have thousands of American soldiers embedded in Iraqi units that are of questionable value or loyalty, I think, puts at risk a large number of American military advisers." He later added, "[I]t should alarm us and it's out of the scope of your study that with 300 million people in America and with the responsibilities we have throughout the world, that we don't have enough troops to surge in Iraq, which was your conclusion. And there was -- I do not believe it would require 100,000 but I won't waste the time of the committee. But it's dispiriting to -- I think there's a disconnect between what you are recommending and the situation on the ground."

Before McCain's trip in late March and early April 2007:

  • On March 14, 2007 -- weeks before his trip to Iraq -- McCain made a speech on the Senate floor regarding Iraq. He said: "If ... you believe, as I do, that an increase of U.S. troops in Iraq, carrying out a counterinsurgency mission, and coupled with critical political and economic benchmarks to be met by the Iraqi government, provides a better -- and perhaps the last -- chance for success in Iraq, then you should give your support to this new strategy. It may not be popular nor politically expedient, but we are always at our best when we put aside the small politics of the day in the interest of our nation and the values upon which they rest."
  • On the March 26, 2007, edition of Bill Bennett's Morning in America radio show, McCain said that the United States is "beginning to succeed in Iraq." When Bennett asked McCain to "give us one single thing that [Gen. David] Petraeus is doing as a military expert that you find so encouraging," as part of his response, McCain said, "There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods, today." The following day on CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer stated during an interview with McCain, "Everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called Green Zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you're in trouble if you're an American." In response, McCain said, "You know, that's where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in a non-armed Humvee. I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. You certainly don't get it through the filter of some of the media." However, during the April 8, 2007, edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, McCain admitted: "There is no unarmored Humvees. Obviously, that's the case. ... Of course I'm going to misspeak and I've done it on numerous occasions, and I probably will in the future."

During the trip, McCain visited an open-air market in downtown Baghdad. At a press conference later that day, a reporter asked McCain about his previous statement that he "could walk through" neighborhoods in Baghdad, and McCain replied: "Yeah, I just was -- came from one. ... Things are better, and there are encouraging signs. I have been here many ... times over the years; never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today." But several media outlets have noted McCain's heavy security during the visit to the market.

From the July 15 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: Well Senator McCain strongly criticized Senator Obama's speech. McCain declaring sending more troops to Afghanistan by itself is not enough to achieve victory. McCain presented a new strategy for Afghanistan based on the principles behind the surge in Iraq. Dana Bash has our report from Washington.

McCAIN [video clip]: The next president will inherit a situation in Iraq, in which America --

BASH: Experience is his calling card, and on a day both candidates talked national security, John McCain laid this down as a basic test.

McCAIN [video clip]: I know how to win wars. If I'm elected president --

BASH: He offered proof: a new proposal for Afghanistan, where violence has spiked.

McCAIN [video clip]: And I'll turn around the war in Afghanistan just as we have turned around the war in Iraq with a comprehensive strategy for victory.

BASH: McCain was an early supporter of the military surge in Iraq, which he repeatedly tells voters is working. He said he would apply those lessons to Afghanistan, more troops and a better strategy for how to use them.

McCAIN [video clip]: A nationwide civil military campaign that is focused on providing security for the population. Today, no such integrated plan exists. When I'm commander in chief, it will.

BASH: Specifically, McCain would send three more brigades to Afghanistan, called for a doubling of the Afghan Army to 160,000 troops, and said a unified military commander must be in charge of all forces there. But this was as much about slamming Barack Obama's war plans as presenting his own. Obama wants to take troops out of Iraq and send them to Afghanistan.

McCAIN [video clip]: Senator Obama will tell you we can't win in Afghanistan without losing in Iraq. In fact, he has it exactly backwards. It is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan.

BASH: He mocked Obama for outlining his plan for Afghanistan before ever visiting the country.

McCAIN [video clip]: Fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around. First you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy.

BASH: Later on his bus, McCain continued to hit Obama on his national security credentials. McCain reminded reporters that Obama is chairman of the Senate committee that oversees NATO, which has command in Afghanistan, but Obama has never held a hearing -- Lou.

DOBBS: Nor has Senator Obama ever been to Afghanistan. Dana, thank you very much.

From the July 15 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: Much of Senator Obama's war strategy involves timing. And today John McCain was also talking about timing during his military policy speech. McCain says Obama's timing is all off because he's made up his mind before getting any of the facts. Chief political correspondent Carl Cameron reports.

CAMERON: Bare knuckle politics. John McCain outlined his victory strategy for Afghanistan hoping to upstage the foreign policy speech Barack Obama delivered in advance of his upcoming first-ever foreign trip as a presidential candidate.

McCAIN [video clip]: He's speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he's even left, before he has talked to General Petraeus, before he has seen the progress in Iraq, and before he has set foot in Afghanistan for the first time.

CAMERON: In a wartime election campaign in which experience and judgment are key, McCain pronounced himself most qualified and Obama guilty of repeatedly getting key issues wrong.

McCAIN [video clip]: He opposed the surge, predicted it would increase sectarian violence, and called for our troops to retreat as quickly as possible.

CAMERON: At the outset of his campaign, Obama sponsored legislation for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by March of this year. By September of last year, he was calling for an immediate withdrawal. That evolved into withdrawal 16 months after he would take office. Then earlier this month he said he'd refine his position after his foreign trip but reversed that minutes later recommitting to his 16-month timetable.

Obama's Web page for months declared the surge is not working. This weekend that was replaced with language about Iraq's improved security situation. McCain suggested Obama's contortions give inconsistent politicians a bad name.

McCAIN [video clip]: Flip-floppers all over the world are enraged. That -- I mean --

CAMERON: McCain ridicules Obama for rookie policy changes on the gravest of issues - war -- before even seeing the current reality in the region for himself.

McCAIN [video clip]: Fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around. First, you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy.

CAMERON: McCain today focused on Afghanistan, where violence has worsened dramatically in recent weeks and again accused Obama of totally misreading the situation.

McCAIN [video clip]: Senator Obama will tell you we can't win in Afghanistan without losing in Iraq. In fact, he has it exactly backwards. It is precisely the success of the surge in Iraq that shows us the way to succeed in Afghanistan.

CAMERON: McCain complained that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has not been as effective as the U.S. had hoped and called for at least three more brigades, more NATO troops, tens of thousands of new Afghan troops, a unified NATO command and a new White House czar for Afghanistan to oversee a comprehensive Afghan victory strategy.

McCAIN [video clip]: But Afghanistan is sufficiently important that a separate Afghanistan czar is needed.

CAMERON: McCain plans to hammer Obama every day until, during, and after Obama's foreign trip. Not just for letting himself to withdraw without seeing things firsthand, but also for ignoring warnings from commanders on the ground already, who say logistically it may not be possible to meet Obama's timetables in the first place.

In Washington, Carl Cameron, Fox News.

From the 3 pm ET hour of the July 15 edition of MSNBC Live:

SHUSTER: Turning now to presidential politics. Barack Obama is laying out his foreign policy plan in advance of his overseas trip next week. The focus of today's major policy speech was keeping America safe. Senator Obama repeated today that he plans to end the Iraq war within 16 months of taking office. Obama also said he will make fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan the top priority. Senator Obama also says he will focus on keeping nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. And Obama says U.S. energy security will be bolstered by ending our nation's dependence on foreign oil. John McCain today chided Obama for announcing policy plans for Iraq before actually visiting U.S. military troops there and hearing the latest.

McCAIN [video clip]: In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around. First you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy.

SHUSTER: Let's bring in Democratic Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, a Barack Obama supporter. And Congresswoman, on McCain's point, wouldn't it have made more sense for Barack Obama to wait two weeks until after meeting with U.S. commanders next week?

TAUSCHER: No, David. We get briefings every day, and the truth of the matter is is that Senator McCain has been to Iraq what, seven, eight, nine times and he's still wrong. Going to Iraq isn't the answer. What is the answer is having a comprehensive strategy to bring our troops home and many of the other security issues that Senator Obama I think very eloquently and innovatively talked about this morning.

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