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Context of 'March 18, 2008: McCain Repeatedly Conflates Sunnis, Shi’ites in Discussing Iraq Insurgency'

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Presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) says the US could have a military presence in Iraq for “maybe a hundred years,” and that “would be fine with me.” Speaking to a campaign rally audience in New Hampshire, McCain elaborates on his statement, saying that the US still maintains troops in South Korea, Japan, and other nations, and he has no problem with US soldiers remaining in Iraq for decades “as long as Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed.” McCain continues the thread of his assertion after the rally, in an interview with reporter and author David Corn. Corn writes: “I asked McCain about his ‘hundred years’ comment, and he reaffirmed the remark, excitedly declaring that US troops could be in Iraq for ‘a thousand years’ or ‘a million years,’ as far as he was concerned. The key matter, he explained, was whether they were being killed or not: ‘It’s not American presence; it’s American casualties.’” [Mother Jones, 1/3/2008] McCain’s statement is not a “one-time gaffe,” as some claim. His repetitions include:
bullet January 3, 2008: To a Detroit reporter, McCain says: “We’re still in Kuwait since the first Gulf War. If we can continue to show this progress, we could be there for 100 years, for all I know, as long as Americans are not dying. It’s not a matter of American presence; it’s a matter of success so we can beat back this adversary.”
bullet January 6, 2008: On CBS’s Face the Nation, McCain says: “We’ve got to get Americans off the front line, have the Iraqis as part of the strategy, take over more and more of the responsibilities. And then I don’t think Americans are concerned if we’re there for 100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years.”
bullet In a New Hampshire speech on January 7, 2008: “We are in two wars. We are in a greater struggle that is going to be with us for the rest of this century.… These young people that are in this crowd, my friends, I’m going to be asking you to serve. I’m gonna be asking you to step forward and serve this nation in difficult times.”
bullet At a Florida town hall rally on January 26, 2008: “I’d like to look you in the eye and tell you there’s not gonna be any more wars. I’d like to look you in the eyes and tell you that this terrible evil called radical Islamic extremism is defeated. I can’t do that. I’ve got to tell you that we’re gonna be in this struggle for the rest of this century because it’s a transcendent evil.” [Mother Jones, 4/29/2008]

Entity Tags: John McCain, David Corn

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, speaking to reporters in Amman, Jordan.John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, speaking to reporters in Amman, Jordan. [Source: Raw Story]Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, repeatedly conflates the two main warring branches of Islam in statements made while visiting the Middle East. The quickly planned trip was designed to showcase McCain’s foreign policy sagacity, and contrast him with his Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), whose relative lack of experience in foreign policy is being negatively portrayed by the McCain campaign.
Allegations of Cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda - McCain twice says while in Jordan that it is “common knowledge” that Iran, a Shi’ite-led theocracy, is training al-Qaeda terrorists and sending them into Iraq to wreak havoc. Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization. Sunni Muslims have contended for primacy with Shi’ite Muslims for centuries; much of the violence in Iraq is between Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents. “We continue to be concerned about Iranian[s] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,” he says in one instance, and adds: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” His traveling companion, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), whispers a correction in McCain’s ear, and McCain promptly corrects himself, “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”
Criticism of McCain - The Democratic National Committee responds to McCain’s statements by saying: “After eight years of the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, McCain’s comments don’t give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward. Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn’t understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground.” [New York Times, 3/18/2008; Raw Story, 3/18/2008]
Previous Similar Comments - McCain made a similar statement the day before while calling in to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, saying, “As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.” Hewitt did not correct the error. [Town Hall (.com), 3/17/2008] And on February 28, McCain told an audience in Texas, “But al-Qaeda is [in Iraq], they are functioning, they are supported in many times, in many ways by the Iranians.” [ThinkProgress (.org), 3/20/2008] McCain’s own campaign notes that McCain “immediately corrected” the error—a misstatement, as McCain made the mistake three different times in two days—and attacks the Democrats for McCain’s blunder by stating, “Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief.”
Media Reaction - Many in the mainstream media forgive or ignore McCain’s repeated gaffe. The Atlantic Monthly’s Marc Ambinder calls it “momentary confusion” on McCain’s part, again ignoring the fact that McCain made the same mistake three times in two days. [Atlantic Monthly, 3/18/2008] ABC’s Jake Tapper blames the blunder on “jet lag.” [ABC News, 3/18/2008] Both the Associated Press and CNN misreport McCain’s statement. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou inaccurately reports that McCain “voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight US troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to ‘expedite’ a flow of foreign fighters.” [Associated Press, 3/18/2008] And CNN’s Emily Sherman rewrites McCain’s statement, reporting, “During a press conference in Amman, Jordan, the Arizona senator also said there is a continued concern that Iran may be training Iraqi extremists in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq.” [CNN News, 3/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, Marc Ambinder, CNN, Hillary Clinton, Alfred de Montesquiou, Associated Press, Barack Obama, Democratic National Committee, Emily Sherman, Hugh Hewitt, Jake Tapper

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Two days after staunchly defending waterboarding as an interrogation tactic (see April 20, 2009), Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) now claims he has always “strongly opposed” waterboarding. Lieberman, joined by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), writes: “We have… strongly opposed the overly coercive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that these [recently released Justice Department] memos (see April 16, 2009) deemed legal. We do not believe, however, that legal analysis should be criminalized, as proposals to prosecute government lawyers suggest.” [US Senate, 4/22/2009] The same day Lieberman defended the use of waterboarding, McCain, who has always opposed torture as an interrogation method, spoke out again against the practice (see April 20, 2009).

Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, Lindsey Graham

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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