July 23rd, 2008
08:45 AM ET
13 years ago

McCain makes Iraq gaffe

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/23/art.mccainiraq.ap.jpg caption="McCain's comments came in an interview with CBS."](CNN) - Barack Obama's campaign is seizing on a incorrect assertion by rival John McCain that the surge of troops in Iraq was responsible for spurring the so-called "Anbar Awakening" - in which Sunni leaders stepped up their efforts to battle Al Qaeda operatives.

The McCain campaign responded that Democrats are attempting to diminish the role U.S. troops have played in stabilizing the country over the last 18 months.

McCain's initial comments came in an interview with CBS Tuesday night, during with the Arizona senator was asked about Obama's argument that a Sunni revolt against Al-Qaeda and the addition of U.S. troops both played a vital role in diminishing violence in the country.

Election Center: Where McCain, Obama stand on Iraq

"I don't know how you respond to something that is as - such a false depiction of what actually happened," McCain said. "Colonel MacFarland 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."

But Obama's campaign noted McCain's timeline is off. It has been well documented that the “awakening” he referred to got under way in September of 2006, close to four months before the surge policy was implemented. McCain himself used the in-progress Sunni uprising in January of 2007 to advocate the surge policy.

Watch: Petraeus opposes Obama's plan

Responding to charges McCain had misspoken, spokesman Tucker Bounds reiterated the campaign’s position that the surge was "responsible for the reduction in violence we have seen over the last year and a half."

"Democrats can debate whether the Awakening would have survived without the surge, or whether the Shiite militias would have unilaterally disarmed without US troops and our Iraqi allies disarming them by force, but that is a transparent effort to minimize the role of our commanders and our troops in defeating the enemy, because to credit them would be to disparage the judgment of Barack Obama and praise the leadership of John McCain," Bounds also said.

"If Barack Obama had had his way, the Sheiks who started the Awakening would have been murdered at the hands of al Qaeda, and US forces would have already left Iraq in defeat," he added.

Filed under: Iraq • John McCain
soundoff (436 Responses)
  1. American

    Poor, poor McSenile ...I guess his buddy Lieberman wasn't there to correct his mistake.

    July 23, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  2. Brian

    And this is a guy who's running on his foreign policy expertise, and that his "surge worked?" Who is inexperienced here? It is McCain! Despite his years in Congress and military experience it is clear that he is not conversant in the key issues and is far less capable than Obama of being Commander in Chief.

    Plus, CNN, you should note the role of CBS in editing this interview. Despicable journalism.

    July 23, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  3. Jim

    It's a shame the democrats are downplaying the sacrifices and gains our troops have made during the "Surge" to make Iraq more secure. It's too bad Obama is too stubborn and arrogant to admit he was wrong about the "Surge". I guess he'd rather tell the troops that they didn't actually accomplish anything. I'm sure the troops appreciate being told their efforts amounted to nothing. Maybe next Obama will tell them that they were foolish for even joining the military.

    July 23, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  4. Sharon

    If I was Obama campaign I would watch what my candidate says before jumping on someone else. Didn't Obama make a mistake yesterday talking about Israel. It works both ways.

    July 23, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |

    "Anbar Awakening" Is that what you call it . I think PAY OFF is more appropriate. When you give people millions of dollars to join a cause and to reduce violence its a PAY OFF.

    July 23, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  6. Ali

    So this is the guy with all the experience. He makes an obvious mis-statement but won't admit it. Sounds a lot like Bush. Say whatever supports your position. If someone questions it deny it if you can. If you can't deny it play on the fears and insecurities of the people.

    The sad thing is how many people fall for this. Six months ago I prefered Obama becuase he inspired me. Now I am desperate for him to win becuase McCain terifies me. What I don't understand is how so many former Hillary supporter can be so angry and disgrunteled they would actually go against there belief system to prove a point. This is the bahaviour of children who are affraid not of rational adults.

    July 23, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  7. The real Rush lim shady

    Can this senile fool talk about anything except Iraq ?
    honestly, I havent heard him talk about anything else

    July 23, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  8. al







    July 23, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  9. MS

    I suppose being that old is an excuse for mixing up dates and the order of events. I agree that we should give our troops credit where credit is due, but to completely ignore the impact of the Anbar awakening is absurd. Obama's point is that without the Iraqis themselves getting involved in battling Al-Qaeda, the whole operation will never be successful. Instead Republicans like McCain seem to believe that throwing more money and soldiers at the problem is the answer. If we don't get more Iraqi involvement like that seen with the Anbar awakening then no amount of soldiers or money is going to make a difference and the US could end up occupying Iraq indefinitely, which is pretty much what the current situation is.

    Oh and I'm sure the Iraqis appreciate being told that their help, when actually given, amounts to nothing in the eyes of the American leadership.

    July 23, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  10. Eric

    As someone that was involved with the "Sunni Awakening" as it occurred, I find it irresponsible for Barack Obama to discredit the difficult sacrifice the American military members made through tribal engagements in the Sunni Triangle, particularly Ramadi. Obama really doesn't know what the hell he is talking about, and it is painfully obvious to the troops. To dismiss the success of the surge and the military efforts in tribal engagements, after a clear victory over Al Qaeda, is poor judgement and AWFUL leadership. This is not a capable prospective Commander in Chief.

    July 23, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  11. Mark G

    Now who's changing things up to fit their purposes??? Of course Obama wouldn't want the Sheiks who started the Awakening to be murdered by al Qaeda....More of the same fear mongering that we are used to and have come to expect from McSame. I thought the "Buck stops with the President"...so why is McCain trying to ignore the fact that he made a mistake and attack someone else in the process...where have we seen that before...oh yeah...G.W. Bush.

    July 23, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  12. lenny

    Both of the people running for President cannot and should not make a time line for getting our troops out. Anyone who spent any time in the military will tell you that. Both should just keep there mouth shut.

    July 23, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  13. G M

    Why is there no coverage about the fact that Graham has stepped down from Senator McCain's Campaign

    July 23, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  14. The Other Campaign Strategist at 115th St & Amsterdam Avenue

    The outcome of most elections are determined by independent voters.

    Obama supporters, we don’t need to ARGUE with posters here. Trust me, the anti-Obama views ARE NOT coming from the people the Democrats need to win this election. The Democrats need the people that are largely sitting back QUIETLY reading and reviewing these blogs.

    Use the anti-Obama posts so that you know all the negative attacks that we should dissect on this blog so that the UNDECIDED voter gets honest clarity around those topics and makes the smart choice. We don’t need to twist, manipulate or parse words. We’re backing the more intelligent, more thoughtful candidate that builds high performing teams.

    Succinctly rebut the false claim. Support it with facts and give the reference for the facts so that it can be checked. When quoting McCain or a surrogate, list the name of the publication or TV show, the date it ran, etc. Pick your words carefully to remove ambiguity and to avoid exaggerating, or being bombastic.

    Verbally denigrating an opponent never impresses someone else that you want to join your team.

    Remember this is a public forum and people perpetrate their identities and their motives.

    Let us be the adults here. Hire the smart guy, please.

    July 23, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  15. Peter

    Interesting, so Obama is essentially conceding that the surge has "worked," while recognizing that it is not the only (or even the required) factor involved in the current "success" in Iraq. A quasi-mea culpa. I must admit, I didn't think it would "work" either, but I'm pleased that violence there is down.

    Anyway, it's amusing that McCain, just goes on the defensive again (Obama is really dictating the terms of this campaign) by saying that Obama (and the Dems) are trying to minimize the efforts of our soldiers. Nice fear-mongering... the Dems don't respect our troops now?

    So, McCain goads Obama into ultimately going abroad (hoping for a gaffe) and yet it is McCain that ultimately inserts foot into mouth. Great!

    July 23, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. Pat F

    Headlining this as a McCain "gaffe" is just typical media spin on its current love affair with Obama. But media love affairs have a way of turning sour – and when the honeymoon is over, look out, Barack. They'll turn on you like a pack of dogs.

    July 23, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |


    July 23, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  18. pam Eugene OR

    Another in a long list of his "misspeaks". I really think McCain is too old to keep all this groups, cities and time lines straight. If it was no so serious it would be funny.

    July 23, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  19. morefromLA

    It doesn't matter how often you've been on the ground if you still get it wrong.

    July 23, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  20. wait one second here

    John McCain will be stepping out of the race in 5...4...3...2..

    July 23, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  21. VetforObama

    Either McCain got his "history" wrong and didn't know that the Anbar Awakening was already happening in Fall 2006 before the Surge troops arrived (starting in March 2007), and therefore it is simply not true that "because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar Awakening" (by the way Col. McFarlane left Anbar before surge troops started arriving) OR McCain just falsely changed the timeline to suit his argument – wither way, McCain looks foolish.

    July 23, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  22. Obama Fan

    In the week that Obama's been in the middle east, McCain has been very vocal. He's made four or five gaffes this week! I don't believe in judging a candidate by their gaffes, but all this confusion on McCain's part really does NOT reflect well on his ability to lead our nation.

    July 23, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  23. James

    It is a sad reality that senility sets in for most of us. But it is possible that it is also setting in for John McCain.

    How can you use the Sunni Awakening as a justification for the surge and months later say the surge is responsible for the Awakening?

    Memory loss plain and simple.

    Or worse, a purposeful misrepresentation of the facts to a friendly crowd that does not contain fact checkers to dispute what you say at a townhall meeting.

    Even in their response to the challenge of his statement they do not deal with his getting the facts wrong. They continue to try to refocus the debate on his patriotism and Obama's.

    Sad. Politcal. Ginko Biloba is the answer McCain.

    July 23, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  24. sue calgary


    July 23, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  25. Brian

    I keep hearing this "leave in defeat" words. How can we leave in defeat when we went into Iraq without a clear mission? How can we be defeated if we don't know why we're there in the first place.

    July 23, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
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