McCain digs himself in deeper

John McCain tried to spin his way out of the mistake he made when discussing the timeline of the surge, but he didn't succeed.

Published July 24, 2008 1:43PM (EDT)

On Tuesday, discussing the surge in Iraq with CBS News' Katie Couric, John McCain made an embarrassing mistake -- he credited the surge with leading to the "Anbar awakening," even though the awakening had begun months before the surge did. On Wednesday, he and his campaign tried to spin out of the mistake. It didn't work.

McCain said he hadn't been wrong, and that in fact parts of the surge began before President Bush said it did. "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," he said, according to the Associated Press. The AP also notes that "McCain said he had been briefed by Col. MacFarland, commander of 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, in December 2006 to discuss the strategy that remains in force today. Bush announced the surge in January 2007 and the first of the new troops began operations in Iraq in early February 2007."

Time's Joe Klein took great issue with McCain's statements, though, writing that McCain's statement on Wednesday was "pure nonsense," and adding:

MacFarland, as McCain well knows, had been working on turning the Sunni tribes for months, well before the Surge was even a glimmer in George Bush's eye ... At the time, General George Casey -- whom McCain has rightly skewered -- was in charge of MNF-I and he was no fan of counterinsurgency (coin) tactics. If you really want to be technically correct -- and who doesn't? -- Petraeus didn't really begin the implementation of coin tactics in Baghdad until the Joint Security Stations were established in late Spring of 2007. (Remember how people like McCain were saying during the very bloody months of May and June of 2007, "The surge has only just begun." He was absolutely right about that.)

The indefatigable Steve Benen also notes that McCain is now contradicting "MacFarland’s own assessment of what transpired in Anbar province," "McCain's own remarks about the start of the surge policy" and "McCain's own definition of what a counterinsurgency is."

The other bit of spin coming out of the McCain camp is that the surge protected the sheiks who were responsible for the Awakening. There's a bit of very bitter irony there; as the Huffington Post's Sam Stein pointed out, "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." Makes McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds' statement that "If Barack Obama had had his way, the Sheiks who started the Awakening would have been murdered at the hands of al Qaeda" look rather silly, doesn't it?

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Iraq John Mccain R-ariz. Middle East