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Sorting out the truth on national security
Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan October 23, 2008

SUMMARY: This is Part 5 of our series on key issues of the presidential election. We'll distill the candidates' positions and examine key rulings. This time, national security and foreign policy.

In an ongoing series, we're examining issues from the presidential campaign. For each topic, we’ll distill the candidates' positions and present some key rulings. Part 1 was taxes . Part 2 was Iraq. Part 3 was energy. Part 4 was health care . This week, we take on national security and foreign policy.


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, visit McCain's campaign Web site.


Barack Obama

•  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, visit Obama's campaign Web site.


Key rulings for McCain

•  On his strategy for Iraq: In a February TV ad, McCain touted his military service and his foresight in Iraq, saying, "One man opposed a flawed strategy in Iraq." 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. 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. Our ruling is True.

On Obama's policies: Also in February, McCain made an extreme charge against Obama, saying he “suggested bombing Pakistan.” In fact, that is a serious distortion of Obama's remarks in a August 2007 speech. Obama said: “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.” So 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.


Key rulings for Obama

On his strategy for Afghanistan: During a trip to Afghanistan in July, Obama said, “For at least a year now, I have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three.” We find that during an August 2007 speech, Obama did say, "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.” Technically speaking, the time from his speech to the more recent statement is 10 days short of a year. But it’s pretty darn close. So we find his statement True.

 • On McCain's policies: In a September 2008 debate, Obama said McCain “has threatened extinction for North Korea and sung songs about bombing Iran.” The North Korea comment stems from a 1994 interview on This Week with David Brinkley . McCain was asked about the prospects of outright war if North Korea’s leader, Kim Il Sung, refused to allow inspections of his nuclear program, and if he was bluffing. “I don’t know, but I know what they understand and that is the threat of extinction,” McCain replied. The songs about bombing Iran stem from an April 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, referencing the 1965 single Barbara Ann . Then McCain sang softly, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb. Anyway...” The 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.

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Sorting out the truth on national security