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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan September 26, 2008

SUMMARY: This is Part 2 of our series on key issues of the presidential election. We'll distill the candidates' positions and examine key rulings. This time, Iraq.

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. This week, we take on Iraq. Read all our rulings on Iraq here.


John McCain

2002: Votes in favor of authorizing force in Iraq and is an important advocate for the Bush administration's efforts to begin an invasion.

2003: Soon after the invasion, begins calling for more troops and resources.

2004: Criticizes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for failing to plan appropriately to prevent insurgent violence.

January 2007: Is a strong supporter of the Bush administration’s troop surge.

Plans going forward: Rejects measures designed to pressure the Bush administration to remove troops, saying all decisions should be dictated by conditions on the ground. In a speech envisioning his first term, McCain said most troops would be home by January 2013.

Barack Obama

2002: Was not yet a U.S. senator and did not vote on the Iraq war resolution. He did oppose it in a speech as unnecessary and rash.

2004: Says he and other Democrats support troop levels necessary to bring the war to an orderly conclusion.

2006: Calls for the Bush administration to begin withdrawing troops. 

January 2007: Opposes the troop surge on the grounds that a political solution is needed in Iraq. Sponsors legislation that would require the Bush administration to begin withdrawal in 2007; the legislation fails.

Plans going forward: Proposes a withdrawal of about one brigade a month after he takes office, removing all combat troops by about mid 2010. Plan includes caveats for ground conditions and advice of military advisers.

Key rulings for McCain

  • On Hussein and WMD: During a visit to St. Petersburg, Fla., in June, McCain defended the invasion, saying the intelligence community believed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. "I don't think there's any doubt that Saddam Hussein, who had acquired and used weapons of mass destruction before, had invaded a neighbor, Kuwait, where we had to fight one war with him, that his intent was — and he said so himself after his capture — to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction," McCain said. Among the most definitive records yet produced on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction is a report from the Iraq Survey Group, affiliated with the CIA. Hussein’s interrogator for the group, George Piro of the FBI, told 60 Minutes that Hussein told him he wanted to pursue weapons of mass destruction again. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD,” Piro said. “So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.” 60 Minutes asked: Chemical, biological, even nuclear? “Yes,” Piro said. The best record publicly available supports McCain’s statement, so we rule it True.
  • On Obama and the surge: In a speech in Las Vegas in August, McCain said: "With just three months to go before the election, a lot of folks are still trying to square Senator Obama's varying positions on the surge in Iraq. First, he opposed the surge. Then he confidently predicted that it would fail. Then he tried to prevent funding for the troops who carried out the surge." The first two prongs of this statement are clearly true. On Jan. 10, 2007, the day President Bush called for an additional 21,500 troops to try to stabilize Iraq, Obama spoke out against the plan and predicted it would fail to stop the violence. He repeated that assertion in the following months. As for the assertion that Obama tried to prevent funding for the troops who carried out the surge? McCain's campaign points to Obama's vote of May 24, 2007, against an appropriations bill that included funding for the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it's misleading to say Obama didn't want to fund "the troops;" his vote against the bill was because he favored a bill that included a plan for bringing troops home. We rule this Half True.

Key rulings for Obama

  • On timetable to withdraw: On Aug. 21, news broke that the Bush administration and officials in Iraq were negotiating an agreement that envisioned U.S. troops leaving Iraq by 2011. Obama gave an interview to USA Today the same day in which he pointed to the 2011 date and said it matched his own policies. "It's more or less the same time frame I announced two years ago," Obama said. We don’t see much similarity between a 2011 withdrawal date and what Obama advocated two years ago, which would have brought troops home much sooner. But it is “more or less” the plan he began advocating a year ago. Also, during the past two years, Obama was consistently calling for withdrawal, and McCain was not. We rate Obama’s statement Mostly True .
  • On McCain's plan for Iraq: During a debate in February, Obama said, "We are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests might go on for another 100 years." In fact, McCain did talk about being in Iraq for 100 years or 1,000 or 1-million, but Obama twists McCain’s words by saying McCain suggests the war might go on 100 years. In fact, McCain is clearly suggesting that a peactime presence might go on 100 years. We find Obama’s statement to be False.
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