Poll after poll shows that more voters trust Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on matters of national security than they do Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois. Hoping to bridge that chasm, the Obama campaign and Democrats harped on comments McCain made on the Today show this morning, repeatedly calling the 71-year-old presumptive GOP presidential nominee "confused," seeming to feed into concerns voters might have about the Arizonan’s age.
This morning, asked if he has a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq now that the surge is working, McCain said, "No, but that’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany — that’s all fine. American casualties and the ability to withdraw."
The Obama campaign pounced. On a hastily-arranged Obama campaign conference call Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Dr. Susan Rice, and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, all assailed McCain.
Kerry called the remarks "unbelievably out of touch and inconsistent with the needs and concerns of Americans," particularly the families of troops in Iraq. "We cannot support the level of American troops in Iraq; our military is overstretched, it’s reduced our ability to respond to events around the world, and to the situation in Afghanistan. Senator McCain, it is important when they can come home."
Kerry went so far as to say McCain "doesn’t seem to know a lot about foreign policy and Iraq itself."
Rice said McCain’s comments reveal a "real confusion and lack of understanding of the situation in Iraq" and the larger region. Jumping on gaffes McCain made in the past, Rice said McCain’s "repeatedly…confused Sunni and Shi’a," and said he’s been "confused about who the leader in Iran with maximum power is." Rice also said McCain "seems very eager" to engage Iran militarily….This is troubling to say the least, and it’s reflective of a pattern of lack of understanding and lack of strategic depth."
Mark Salter, a top adviser to McCain, said McCain hasn’t been remotely confused on the big picture in Iraq.
"He saw it with unbelievable prescience and unbelievable clarity," Salter said. "He outlined in 2003 precisely what Gen. Petraeus has done so successfully in Iraq. Sen. McCain knows enough about Iraq — from his many visits there and his career in the U.S military — to stand up and advocate, when it was a tough thing to do, a counterinsurgency, a policy he was criticized by Democrats and Republicans for advocating, and one that is manifestly, inarguably succeeding. That’s a position he had the experience and wisdom to recognize, and one that Sen. Obama and Sen. Kerry — as has happened so many times in their careers — were wrong about."
Salter said McCain has had a "level of clarity and understanding on Iraq that obviously Sen. Obama and Sen. Kerry have never achieved on this subject — or Ms. Rice."
Asked if the word "confused" was meant to invoke McCain’s age, Rice said, "what I meant by that is very simple — on critical, factual questions that are fundamental to understanding what’s going on in Iraq and the region, Sen. McCain has gotten it wrong. And not just once but repeatedly."
Rice mentioned a recent incident when McCain mistakenly said troop levels had returned to pre-surge levels. "I’m not ascribing it to any particular function, I’m completely unable to do so," Rice said. "I’m simply pointing out a pattern."
She invited a reporter to offer another word to convey what she saw as McCain’s "lack of understanding, misunderstanding, …they all amount to the same thing. There is a gap. Between reality and sen McCain’s characterization of reality and that’s disturbing from somebody who has staked his candidacy on judgment and experience."
Kerry said to a reporter that it was "unfair and even a little bit ridiculous to assume that because you use a word that is used about every day in America life and people’s policies and apply it to John McCain and you jump to the conclusion that is about somebody’s age."
Kerry said there are plenty of senators and congressman older than McCain "who understand the difference sand don’t make the mistakes he’s made with respect to those policies," he said, citing Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia. "They know who the Sunni are and they know who the Shi’a are, and they know exactly who’s training who. And they don’t make those kinds of mistakes."
Danzig added, "I don’t think it’s a question of age," saying McCain was wrong five years ago when he voted to authorize use of force against Iraq, when he was five years younger.
McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds issued a statement saying the Obama campaign "is embarking on a false attack on John McCain to hide their own candidate’s willingness to disregard facts on the ground in pursuit of withdrawal no matter what the costs. John McCain was asked if he had a ‘better estimate’ for a timeline for withdrawal. As John McCain has always said, that is not as important as conditions on the ground and the recommendations of commanders in the field. Any reasonable person who reads the full transcript would see this and reject the Obama campaign’s attempt to manipulate, twist and distort the truth.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill joined the charges as well.
"When asked this morning about American troops coming home from Iraq, John McCain said ‘that’s not too important,’" said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois, the House Caucus Chairman. "Senator McCain, to the men and women who are serving their second, third, or even fourth deployment in Iraq, and to their families, it is incredibly important. Once again, John McCain has displayed a fundamental misunderstanding about the situation in Iraq, our strained military, and American troops and their families."
Democrats not surprisingly avoided mentions of other sections of the Today interview, including anchor Matt Lauer’s praise of McCain for "courage" for having backed the surge when the rest of the country was opposed to it, McCain pointing out that he was pushing the Bush administration to add more troops early on.
They also shied away from using McCain’s complete answer to Lauer’s question about withdrawal, which included McCain saying, "we will be able to withdraw. Gen. Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are. But the key to it is we don’t want any Americans in harm’s way. And that way they will be safe. And serve our country, and come home in honor in victory. Not in defeat, which is what Sen. Obama’s proposal would have done…We are succeeding and it’s fascinating that Sen. Obama still doesn’t realize that."
The fuller answer can be seen HERE