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Sorting out the truth on national security

One man found his winning message

The statement

One man opposed a flawed strategy in Iraq.

John McCain, Feb. 6 in a TV ad airing in Virginia, the District of Columbia and Maryland The ruling

Although he has been one of the Senate's strongest and most vocal advocates of the war in Iraq, McCain has also been one of the Bush adminstration's biggest Republican critics. As far back as mid 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, McCain was warning that the United States needed to send more troops to Iraq and more money to Iraq reconstruction efforts, or else face a deep and long-lasting insurgency that would threaten America's mission there. Which, of course, is exactly what happened. He was also a strident critic of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, telling interviewers that he lacked confidence in Rumsfeld as far back as 2004 — meaty criticism for a top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. "There's not enough (troops), 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," McCain told NBC's Meet the Press on Aug. 24, 2003. Independent experts and many Democrats have lavished criticism on the administration's strategy in Iraq. But among his Republican competitors, McCain was clearly there first.

Obama proposed more troops in '07

The statement

"For at least a year now, I have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three."

Barack Obama, July 20 in Afghanistan

The ruling

During a trip to Afghanistan, Obama said the United States needed to focus on the war there, calling the situation "precarious and urgent," and saying, "for at least a year now, I have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three." We consulted the record to see if Obama had urged more troops that long ago. Back on Aug. 1, 2007, Obama gave a major foreign policy speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., talking about the need for the United States to turn its attention to Afghanistan. "Our troops have fought valiantly there, but Iraq has deprived them of the support they need — and deserve," Obama said. "As a result, parts of Afghanistan are falling into the hands of the Taliban, and a mix of terrorism, drugs and corruption threatens to overwhelm the country. As president, I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to reinforce our counterterrorism operations and support NATO's efforts against the Taliban." That speech was the first time we could find Obama specifically advocating for more brigades to Afghanistan. Technically speaking, the time from his speech on Aug. 1, 2007, to his more recent statement is 10 days short of a year. But it's pretty darn close. So we find his statement True.

A distortion of what Obama said

The statement

Obama "suggested bombing Pakistan."

John McCain, Feb. 20 in a media availability in Columbus, Ohio The ruling

It's an extreme charge because Pakistan has been a key ally to the United States. We find McCain's remark seriously distorts what Obama said. In an Aug. 1, 2007, speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., Obama spoke about the problem of terrorists within Pakistan. He said he would continue to provide military aid to Pakistan as long as authorities work to close terrorist training camps and prevent the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area. Then he added: "I understand that (Pakistan) President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al-Qaida leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will." We recognize that McCain is questioning the wisdom of Obama telegraphing our military plans. But it is a serious distortion to say Obama supports "bombing Pakistan." (Indeed, all Obama said was that he would "act.") That's Pants-on-Fire wrong.

One Obama example is just too old

The statement

John McCain "has threatened extinction for North Korea and sung songs about bombing Iran."

Barack Obama, Sept. 26 in a debatee in in Oxford, Miss.

The ruling

In 1994, North Korea's leader, Kim Il Sung, was refusing to allow inspections of his nuclear program. McCain appeared on This Week with David Brinkley and was asked about the prospects of outright war. "I think history shows us, especially in dealing with dictators, that a strong, resolute policy and position is what usually avoids what you're talking about," McCain said. "You think they're bluffing?" he was asked. "I don't know, but I know what they understand and that is the threat of extinction," McCain replied. So, he said it. But it was once in 1994. Now, about McCain's singing songs about bombing Iran. This stems from an April 18, 2007, event at a VFW hall in Murrells Inlet, S.C. A man asked McCain, "When do we send an airmail message to Tehran?" The audience clapped. "That old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran," McCain said, apparently referencing the 1965 single Barbara Ann. Then McCain sang softly, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb. Anyway..." Video is available on YouTube. McCain said later it was a joke. So in the end, Obama is right that McCain said both things. But we're not going to give full weight to the 14-year-old tough-talking remarks. We rate Obama's statement Half True.

Highlights of their positions and plans

John McCain

• Supports a robust presence in Iraq and additional troops in Afghanistan. Opposes timelines for the withdrawal of troops.

• Wants to increase the size of the military, especially the Army and Marines. Will reform defense procurement.

• Supports the development of missile defense systems to protect against rogue regimes like North Korea.

• Proposes political and financial sanctions against Iran, which he calls "the foremost threat to Israel."

• Seeks to rein in nuclear proliferation for a world free of nuclear weapons.

•For more policies, go to


• Advocates a phased withdrawal for Iraq and additional troops to Afghanistan. Opposes permanent bases in Iraq.

• Supports an increase in the size of the Army and the Marines, as well as increases to special operations forces.

• Advocates vigorous diplomacy with nations such as North Korea and Iran.

• Willing to use force unilaterally to advance pressing American interests, such as capturing Osama bin Laden.

• Pledges to secure loose nuclear materials worldwide within four years, working toward the goal of a nuclear-free world.

• For more policies, go to

Sorting out the truth on national security 10/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 5:36pm]
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