McCain refuses to admit serious error:

Candidate denies he misstated timing of
the 'surge' and 'Anbar awakening'

Tom Raum

Associated Press
July 23, 2008

Republican John McCain pushed back on Wednesday against Democratic 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 an unscheduled stop in a super market that, what the Bush administration calls "the surge" was actually "made up of a number of components," some of which began before the president's 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."

Democrats jumped on his comments. They 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 30,000 additional U.S. 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."

In fact, what is referred to as the "Anbar awakening," or "Sunni awakening" [in Anbar], was referred to in President Bush's January 10, 2007 'speech to the nation' in which the planned 'surge,' which was to begin later, was announced:

"Our military forces in Anbar are killing and capturing Al Qaeda leaders, and they are protecting the local population. Recently, local tribal leaders [in Anbar] have begun to show their willingness to take on Al Qaeda. And as a result, our commanders believe we have an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists. So I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops. These troops will work with Iraqi and tribal forces to up the pressure on the terrorists. America’s men and women in uniform took away Al Qaeda’s safe haven in Afghanistan — and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq." -- President Bush, January 10, 2007

Speaking on CBS Tuesday of a Sunni sheik who approached Col. 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 while the Illinois Democrat is visiting the war zone, the Middle East and Europe.

"I am again deeply disappointed that Sen. Obama will not recognize that the surge has succeeded," McCain said. He said that "no rational person" could think otherwise.

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.