During a CBS interview on Tuesday, John McCain made a stone cold error on a subject about which he claims expert knowledge: the "surge" strategy in Iraq. In an interview with anchor Katie Couric, the Arizona Republican said, inaccurately, that the surge strategy was responsible for the much-touted "Anbar Awakening," in which Sunni sheiks turned against Al Qaeda, helping in turn to reduce violence in the country.
From the transcript:
Katie Couric: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says, while the increased number of US 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?
McCain: I don't know how you respond to something that is as-- such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel MacFarland 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. I mean, that's just a matter of history.
In fact, as Spencer Ackerman and Ilan Goldenberg have reported, the record firmly establishes the opposite: instead of being caused by the surge, the key signs of the Anbar Awakening occurred not only before that strategy was implemented, but before it was ever conceived.
Yet McCain's error was not seen by any CBS Evening News viewers. As MSNBC's Keith Olbermann noted (video below), "CBS curiously, to say the least, left it on the edit room floor. It aired Katie Couric's question, but in response, it aired part of McCain's answer to the other question instead." (Ironically, this edit came on the same day that McCain's campaign released a video mocking the media's "love affair" with Obama.)
The fact remains, however, that the military official cited by McCain, then-Colonel Sean MacFarland, described the Anbar Awakening in September 2006 -- four months before the "surge" was even announced -- noting that tribal leaders were "stepping forward and cooperating with the Iraqi security forces against Al Qaeda." Moreover, a military review written by MacFarland notes that his unit actually left Anbar before most of the surge troops arrived; his success in the region came between June 2006 and February 2007.
Especially notable is that McCain himself was not always confused as to the start date of the Awakening, and whether or not it was caused by the surge. Fresh off one of his much-touted trips to Iraq, McCain delivered remarks to the conservative American Enterprise Institute on January 5, 2007. Alongside fellow Senator Joe Lieberman, McCain specifically advocated for the newly proposed surge, and cited the already-in-progress turning of Sunni sheiks as a reason to send more troops. From the transcript of the event:
"Too often the light at the tunnel has turned out to be a train, but I really believe -- I really believe that there's a strong possibility that you may see a very substantial change in Anbar province due to this new changes in our relationships with the sheiks in the region. ... But it's important, as I said in my opening remarks, that this troop surge be significant and sustained. Otherwise, don't do it."
Sen. Lieberman also spoke about the Anbar Awakening at the same press conference while standing next to McCain:
"I wrote last week of a conversation I had after John and I and our delegation met with our military leadership in Anbar province -- a tough, brilliant, committed group of soldiers making progress there, turning the Sunni sheiks in that province to our side against Al Qaeda."
All of which raises the question: how much of the surge's history has John McCain forgotten, and when did he begin to forget it? Oddly enough, his own campaign may have primed him to make the error. In a conference call for reporters early Tuesday, McCain's senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann told reporters: "He [Obama] believes Sunnis and Shias would have made the same decision if there was not the security provided by the surge? This is ludicrous."
UPDATE: CBS appears to have posted their entire interview with McCain online:
UPDATE II: The McCain campaign responds with an attack.