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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Critic Or Cheerleader: The Definitive McCain Iraq Timeline

Here it is: We've created a comprehensive time-line of John McCain's statements on Iraq, from the inception of the conflict to the present.

Our time-line casts some doubt on a key McCain campaign claim: That he's been a broad critic of Bush's war policies for many years now.

It also finds multiple inconsistencies in his public statements on the war.

The claim that McCain has been a critic of Bush's war policies in general is central to his candidacy. In July, he said: "I think you know that I opposed the failed strategy of the Bush administration."

Our timeline does support some of McCain's argument. It's true that as early as August of 2003, after he'd visited Iraq, he started saying that there weren't enough American troops in Iraq. At the time, this was consensus opinion among Democratic members of Congress and foreign policy hands. When McCain claims credit for having called for more troops early on, he's right.

Nonetheless, from the very beginning, all the way up to the present, McCain has repeatedly voiced strong support for Bush's approach in general, in ways that are at odds with his later claims of prescience.

For instance, In December of 2007, he deplored the fact that America had gone to war without "a realistic and comprehensive plan for success." But in June of 2003, he said that the "major conflict is over" and suggested that the mission had been accomplished. That same year he predicted that we'd be "greeted as liberators."

There are other inconsistencies. In October of 2006, he himself said that we needed 20,000 more troops. And when Bush subsequently announced that he would send 21,500 -- more than McCain's suggestion -- the Arizona Senator firmly supported it.

But then, in what may have been an effort to lay the groundwork for evading blame if Bush's surge failed, McCain changed his position, saying that he'd actually prefer that Bush send still more troops.

McCain has also been somewhat inconsistent on whether he supported Bush's policies and has exaggerated his opposition to them in a general sense. In April of 2008, for instance, he said that the war had been "mishandled terribly" by the administration and said he'd "fought against" Bush's overall approach.

In fact, while he did criticize the administration for not sending more troops, the timeline shows that he was repeatedly supportive of Bush's general approach over the years. Indeed, in April of 2008, he said: "No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have."

You can view our timeline -- which was compiled with the help of indefatigable TPM intern Matt Berman -- after the jump. The check marks denote McCain statements in favor of Bush's policies. The X marks denote opposition. And the Pinocchio noses are not meant to denote outright lies, but exaggeration and fudging of the whole truth.

If we've missed any important ones, let us know and we'll add them. Enjoy.

3/18/03, Fox, "O'Reilly Factor"

O'Reilly: "All right, Senator, if you were president, what would you have done differently in the run-up to this war?"

McCain: "Nothing."

O'Reilly: "Nothing?"

McCain: "The president has handled this, in my view, skillfully."

3/24/03, MSNBC, "Hardball"

"There's no doubt in my mind that once these people are gone that we will be welcomed as liberators."

6/11/03, Fox News

Neil Cavuto: ...many argue the conflict isn't over.

McCain: Well, then why was there a banner that said mission accomplished on the aircraft carrier? Look, the -- I have said a long time that reconstruction of Iraq would be a long, long, difficult process, but the conflict -- the major conflict is over, the regime change has been accomplished.

8/24/03, NBC, "Meet the Press"

NBC's TIM RUSSERT: "What must be done in Iraq right now?"

SEN. MCCAIN: "SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ): First, could I say, Tim, the men and women in the military are doing a superb job. To see these young people in 125-degree heat with body armor and equipment on, they're marvelous and they're well-led and they're doing a great job. The problem is that they don't have enough resources. There's not enough of them, and we are in a very serious situation, in my view, a race against time. We need to spend a whole lot more money to get the services back to the people. We need to get the electricity going, the fuel, the water. And unless we get that done and get it done pretty soon, we could face a very serious situation."

11/5/03, Remarks To Council On Foreign Relations

"To win in Iraq, we should increase the number of forces in-country, including Marines and Special Forces, to conduct offensive operations. I believe we must have in place another full division, giving us the necessary manpower to conduct a focused counterinsurgency campaign across the Sunni triangle that seals off enemy operating areas, conducts search and destroy operations and holds territory. Such a strategy would be the kind of new mission General Sanchez agreed would require additional forces. It's a mystery to me why they are not forthcoming. We cannot achieve our political goals as long as a strategic region of Iraq is in a state of fundamental insecurity."

11/30/03, Fox News

"We need more troops.... [W]e have to be much more robust and do and send whatever troops are necessary."

3/7/04, ABC News

"I'm confident we're on the right course. I'm confident that this is a very difficult and imperfect process, bringing democracy to countries that have never known democracy, fraught with secular differences as well as ethnic differences. It's very, very difficult. But I am confident that an imperfect democracy is what we'll get out of Iraq will be vastly superior to what the people of Iraq had prior to this."

4/11/04, Remarks At Media Availability

"I was there in last August and have said since then that we needed more troops, we need them very badly. We may be paying a price for not having had more troops there...."

4/14/04, Fox News, "Hannity and Colmes"

"[W]hen I was there in Iraq in August, I talked to [the] British. I talked to sergeant majors. I talked to colonels and captains. And I came back absolutely convinced that we needed more boots on the ground. These people warned me. They said, 'Look, if you don't have more soldiers here, you're going to lose control of this situation and you're going to face an insurgency some months from now.' I begged and pleaded that we send more troops. Secretary Rumsfeld said, 'Well, our commanders on the ground haven't asked for them.' It's not up to the commanders on the ground. It's up to the leadership of the country to make these decisions. That's why we elect them and have civilian supremacy. We're now facing a terrible insurgency. We can prevail, but we've got to have more people over there to get the job done."

4/22/04, Remarks To Council On Foreign Relations

"I have said since my visit to Iraq last August that our military presence is insufficient to bring stability to the country. We should increase the number of forces, including Marines and Special Forces, to conduct offensive operations. There is also a dire need for other types of forces, including linguists, intelligence officers, and civil affairs officers. We must deploy at least another full division, and probably more."

9/23/04, CNBC, "Capital Report,"

"I think that we need more troops in Iraq. I've thought that for a long time, election or no election. ... [I]'ve been asking since a year ago last August. So I'm not sure that the elections have a lot to do with it, but I've been saying since a year ago August that we needed more boots on the ground...."

4/28/04, CNN

"Senator Kerry and the president say we have to stay the course. We have to stay the course."

10/24/04, ABC News, "This Week"

"We've got to stay the course and I believe that's what President Bush is committed to."

12/5/04, Fox News, "Fox News Sunday"

"[T]he problem that we have here is that the Pentagon has been reacting to initiatives of the enemy rather than taking initiatives from which the enemy has to react to. Many of us, as long as a year and a half ago, said, 'You have to have more people there. You have to have more linguists. You have to have more special forces. You have to have' - and the Pentagon has reluctantly, obviously, gradually made some increases. And the problem, when you react, you have to extend people on duty there, which is terrible for morale. There's a terrific strain on Guard and reservists. If you plan ahead, then you don't have to do some of these things. The military is too small. The good news is we went into Fallujah and we dug then out of there. And I'm proud of the work. These men and women are magnificent. Their leadership is magnificent. The bad news is we allowed Fallujah to become a sanctuary to start with. So, yes, we need more troops. Yes, we have to win."

12/13/04, AP

When asked about his confidence in Rumsfeld's leadership on Iraq, McCain said, "I said no. My answer is still no. No confidence...I have strenuously argued for larger troop numbers in Iraq, including the right kind of troops -- linguists, special forces, civil affairs, etc." When asked if Rumsfeld was a liability to the Bush administration, McCain responded: "The president can decide that, not me."

6/28/05, MSNBC, "Hardball"

"I think we need - I think we need more troops there ... because we're not staying once we attack and clear. We've got stay and expand."

6/28/05, Fox News

"And what the president did tonight is the most important thing. He laid out an articulate vision for victory in Iraq and why we need to stay the course."

6/29/05, CNN, "American Morning"

"I've thought for a long, long time, since the very beginning, that we needed more troops, and one of the reasons why we've experienced many of the difficulties we have is we didn't have enough boots on the ground"

8/14/05, Fox News, "Fox News Sunday"

"We not only don't need to withdraw, we need more troops there."

11/10/05, Speech to AEI

"To enhance our chances of success with this strategy and enable our forces to hold as much territory as possible, we need more troops. For this reason, I believe that current ideas to effect a partial drawdown during 2006 are exactly wrong. ... Instead of drawing down, we should be ramping up, with more civil-military soldiers, translators and counterinsurgency operations teams."

12/8/05, The Hill

"Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course."

2/26/06, ABC News

"We have made serious mistakes in Iraq, which have caused us enormous problems and we've paid consequences"

4/15/06, The Arizona Republic

"We've made mistakes, but we can win, and we must win."

5/29/06, New York Observer

"One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit,'" said Mr. McCain, according to Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, an invitee, and two other guests. McCain also criticized the Bush administration's lack of candor about the current situation there.

6/20/06, CBS, "Evening News"

"You know, I've always said that we needed more troops over there. I have said that for years."

6/20/06, Financial Times

McCain criticized the administration for not having enough troops in Iraq, saying it was "like the little Dutch boy with his thumb in the dike."

7/26/06, CNN, "Larry King Live"

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we made that we've paid a very heavy price for was not having enough boots on the ground. I said that three years ago."

9/24/06, CBS, "Face the Nation"

Bush had "laid out recently a pretty cogent argument why we must, quote -- I hate to use the phrase -- 'stay the course'"

10/27/06, The Associated Press State & Local Wire

"Roughly, you need another 20,000 troops in Iraq, but that means expanding the Army and Marine Corps by as much as 100,000 people," the Arizona senator told reporters after a campaign event for Republicans in New Hampshire's North Country.

11/17/06, New York Times

"In no other time are we more morally obliged to speak the truth to our country, as we best see it, than in a time of war. So let me say this, without additional combat forces we will not win this war."

1/14/07, New York Times

Mr. McCain embarked on a high-profile television tour announcing his support for Mr. Bush's move. In an interview, he said he would have preferred that the White House send in even more troops, and noted that he had pressed this position on the White House, unsuccessfully until now, for more than two years.

1/24/07, CNN

Speaking in support of the President's State of the Union speech in which he emphasized support of the proposed escalation of 21,000 additional forces in Iraq, McCain said, "I'm sticking with the president."

2/4/07, ABC, This Week

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet you are doubtful that 20,000 troops is enough. Aren't you?

MCCAIN: I'm worried...I would have liked to have seen more, as you know, but apparently, and it's quite a commentary, this is all we got. This is, as I said earlier, all in.

3/3/07, The Salt Lake Tribune

President Bush announced last month a plan to send an additional 21,500 military members to Iraq in an attempt to quell worsening sectarian violence. While expressing some skepticism over whether the recent "surge" is enough, McCain said military leaders have ensured him the new plan is sound.

5/3/07, MSNBC/Politico Republican Presidential Debate

Moderator: Do you need anything beyond what the president has now to win the war?

McCain: Now I think it's on the right track.

7/19/07, Boston Globe

"At the Globe yesterday, McCain also talked at length about Iraq, reiterating his support for the president's plan to try to secure Baghdad with an additional 20,000 combat troops."

Nov/Dec 2007, Foreign Affairs

"The recent years of mismanagement and failure in Iraq demonstrate that America should go to war only with sufficient troop levels and with a realistic and comprehensive plan for success. We did not do so in Iraq, and our country and the people of Iraq have paid a dear price."

1/6/08, Fox News GOP Presidential Forum

"I know that I have been an agent of change. I'm proud to have been one of those who played a key role in bringing about one of the most important changes in recent years, and that was the change in strategy from a failing strategy in Iraq pursued by Secretary Rumsfeld, which was needlessly causing sacrifice of our most precious American treasure."

4/2/08, Think Progress

"No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have."

4/15/08, MSNBC, "Hardball"

"But the point is that I think we are succeeding. The war was mishandled terribly for nearly four years by Donald Rumsfeld and this administration. I fought against it. I argued against. And I argued for the new strategy, which is succeeding."

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