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McCain says he has his Iraq facts straight

Republican John McCain pushed back Wednesday against Democrats' criticism that he misstated when the troop buildup ordered by President Bush began, saying elements were put in place before Bush announced the strategy in early 2007.

He told reporters during a stop that, what the Bush administration calls “the surge” was actually “made up of a number of components,” some of which began before the order for more troops.

It's all a matter of semantics, he suggested.

McCain said Army Col. Sean MacFarland started carrying out elements of a new counterinsurgency strategy as early as December 2006.

At issue are McCain's comments in a Tuesday interview with CBS. The Arizona senator disputed Democrat Barack Obama's contention that a Sunni revolt against al-Qaida combined with the dispatch of thousands more U.S. combat troops to Iraq to produce the improved security situation there. McCain called that a “false depiction.”

But Democrats said McCain's remarks showed he was out of touch, because the rebellion of U.S.-backed Sunni sheiks against al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq's Anbar province was under way well before Bush announced in January 2007 his decision to send additional troops to Iraq.

McCain asserted he knew that and didn't commit a gaffe. “A surge is really a counterinsurgency made up of a number of components. … I'm not sure people understand that ‘surge' is part of a counterinsurgency.”

Speaking Tuesday on CBS of a Sunni sheik who approached MacFarland, McCain said: “Because of the surge, we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening.”

On Wednesday, McCain continued to try to portray his opponent as naive on Iraq.

“I am again deeply disappointed that Sen. Obama will not recognize that the surge has succeeded,” McCain said.

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