That Was the Sheikh That Was

McCain’s attempts to get his cart before the horse analysis of the surge to make sense have only dug him in deeper:

Okay, this afternoon John McCain pushed back on criticism of his Anbar-surge timeline flub by arguing, in effect, that the overall strategy change that made the Anbar Awakening possible began before the actual surge in troops:

The Arizona senator has told reporters during a stop at a super market in Bethlehem, Pa., that what the Bush administration calls “the surge” was actually “made up of a number of components.” McCain says some components of the surge began before Bush ordered more U.S. troops into Iraq.McCain says U.S. Col. Sean MacFarland started carrying out elements of a new counterinsurgency strategy as early as December 2006.

Hmmm. McCain is crediting the success of the surge to strategic components that didn’t involve the actual increase in troops? Sounds a bit like he’s undermining the troops, doesn’t it?

Seriously, what McCain actually said is that one of the key figures in the Awakening “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.”

The problem with that scenario is that the sheikh McCain credited the surge with protecting was actually assassinated almost a year ago:

The major Sunni sheik who John McCain said was protected by the surge and subsequently helped lead the Anbar Awakening, was actually assassinated by an al-Qaeda led group in midst of the surge.

On Tuesday evening, McCain falsely claimed that the downturn in violence in Iraq’s Anbar province was a result of the surge, when in fact the surge began months afterward. Moreover, he said, if it weren’t for the work of U.S. forces, the major Sunni figure leading that awakening wouldn’t have had the protection he needed.

“Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks,” said the Senator. “Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening.”

The Arizona Republican’s campaign went further the next day, claiming that the major figures that turned around Anbar province would have been killed had the surge policy not been in place. “If Barack Obama had had his way, the Sheiks who started the Awakening would have been murdered at the hands of al Qaeda,” said spokesman Tucker Bounds.

Sadly, that murder took place even with the surge underway. In September 2007, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the sheik widely credited with persuading Sunni leaders to turn against al Qaeda in Iraq, died in a bomb attack in Anbar. His work, prior to then, was held as a major effort in transforming the province from one of Iraq’s deadliest areas into one of its safest.

Steve Benen points out a couple of other problems:

Here’s the new McCain campaign rationale for his obvious screw-up: the surge, for all of you calendar-lovers, may technically have come after the launch of the Anbar Awakening, but it doesn’t matter because were it not for the surge, the Awakening would have failed miserably. The influx of U.S. troops may have come after the Awakening, but it made the success of the Awakening possible. That, in a nutshell, is the new argument.

As spin goes, that’s pretty creative. But that doesn’t make it right.

First, the McCain campaign is making a case that’s supported by practically nothing. The vast majority of the troops involved with the surge went to Baghdad, not Anbar, the latter of which saw one U.S. brigade. Did the presence of this brigade make the surge successful? It can’t be disproven, but it’s hardly the accepted consensus, either.

Second, and more importantly, the latest spin is disconnected to what McCain, you know, actually said. McCain insisted that the surge “began the Anbar awakening.” It didn’t. In fact, to hear McCain tell it, the only Awakening the surge happened — not succeeded, but happened — is the surge, which is clearly false. All the after-the-fact rationalizing won’t change this obvious mistake.

Sen. McCain’s statement that the surge “began the Anbar awakening” was made during an exclusive interview with CBS’s Katie Couric. And instead of challenging McCain on the obvious factual misstatement, Couric edited it out:

I know that poor John has been complaining that the media is falling in love with Obama, but how will he explain CBS removing this little jem from his interview and leaving it on the cutting room floor? It is only available through the transcript. (CBS has since put the video online) Thanks for nothing CBS; Katie has once again proven that she is nothing more than a corporate shill. I wonder if anyone else will pick up this story? I bet KOS will!

UPDATE: From JakeDalton in the comments:

The bigger story is that CBS scrubbed the interview. KO claimed that:

  1. McCain’s response didn’t survive the cutting room floor, but
  1. Couric’s question did; and
  1. CBS replaced McCain’s incorrect response with one he gave to another question.

If that’s what actually went down, I’m astonished. CBS has a lot of explaining to do.

John Amato has more details:

As C&L and many others have reported last night, CBS news had a huge scoop Tuesday night on John McCain, because he falsely claimed that the surge was responsible for the “Sunni Awakening in Anbar.” That is FALSE. The Sunnis changed positions before the surge was ever discussed so—McCain once again makes a major mistake on the one issue his campaign is running on—The Iraq war. 

However, CBS probably violated its own rules (Standards and Practice) by altering the video of Katie Couric’s interview with McCain that left out his major blunder on this issue and then broadcast it on our airwaves. CBS should not paste together separate answers from different questions to make it appear like an answer was fluid. It was completely taken out of context. I understand that a fair amount of editing has to be done, but what they did failed to meet the legitimacy test.

Here’s what happened. ON CBS Nightly News, Katie Couric started off the segment with question #3 of her interview from their website version of the McCain interview:

Couric QUESTION #3: Senator McCain, Sen. Obama says, while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What’s your response to that?

They then edited out his major gaffe on “the surge” and inserted his partial answer to question #1 and then spliced in a partial answer to question # 3 to make it appear to be a consistent response.

John has much more detail; take a read.

Only in the corporate U.S. media could protecting a right-wing candidate’s reputation be more important than a huge exclusive news story.

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