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Sen. John McCain went into attack mode in a recent speech before the Disabled American Veterans convention in Las Vegas.
"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," McCain told the veterans in the Aug. 11, 2008, speech. "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."
It was a three-pronged attack, and it prompted us to check whether Obama indeed opposed the surge, predicted it would fail, and tried to prevent funding for the troops who carried it out.
The first two prongs 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.
"I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there," he told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. "In fact, I think it will do the reverse. I think it takes pressure off the Iraqis to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that every observer believes is the ultimate solution to the problems we face there. So I am going to actively oppose the president's proposal."
He followed through on that promise on Feb. 17, 2007, when he voted to support a bill expressing that "Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq." The motion failed in a vote of 56 yeas to 34 nays, with three-fifths required to move it forward.
Obama continued to predict the surge would not prompt the sort of political reconciliation necessary to end violence in Iraq.
On July 18, 2007, Obama told Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show, "My assessment is that the surge has not worked and we will not see a different report eight weeks from now."
He continued: "And it is my assessment and the American people's assessment that this strategy has not worked, that al-Qaida has gotten stronger in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that we are fighting on the wrong battlefield and the Iraqi government has not done the work it needs to do to resolve the civil war in Iraq."
So yes, Obama opposed the surge and predicted it would fail.
Now, did Obama try to prevent funding for the troops who carried out the surge?
The evidence the McCain campaign cited to support that claim is Obama's vote of May 24, 2007, against an appropriations bill that included funding for the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (and passed, 80-14).
"That was the moment that Barack Obama voted to cut off funding for the troops who were in Iraq and carrying out the surge," McCain spokesman Joseph Pounder told us in an e-mail exchange.
First of all, the bill in question funded all of the ongoing military operations in both theaters, not just "the troops who carried out the surge," as McCain's comment implied.
Secondly, it's misleading to say Obama didn't want to fund "the troops." He said he would support a bill that included a plan for bringing troops home. "We must fund our troops," Obama said. "But we owe them something more. We owe them a clear, prudent plan to relieve them of the burden of policing someone else's civil war. ... We must negotiate a better plan that funds our troops, signals to the Iraqis that it is time for them to act and that begins to bring our brave servicemen and women home safely and responsibly."
If that one vote of Obama's constituted an attempt to "prevent funding to the troops," then almost every Republican in the Senate did the same when they voted against a $124-billion appropriations bill on April 26, 2007, that would have funded operations in Iraq and Afghanistan but also required Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq. (McCain missed the vote on that bill, which passed 51-46 and was subsequently vetoed by Bush.) It wasn't the idea of funding the troops that Bush and the other Republicans were opposing, it was the strategy that the bill would have enabled.
Likewise, it wasn't "the troops" Obama was trying to defund with his May 24, 2007 vote, it was Bush's war strategy.
So the first two prongs of McCain's attack were accurate, while the third was not. Since McCain was two-thirds correct, we considered giving him a Mostly True on this one. But the misleading portion of the attack was the most provocative — painting Obama as opposed to the well-being of the troops. We're calling it Half True.
MSNBC, Interview with Sen. Barack Obama by Keith Olbermann, Jan. 10, 2007
THOMAS, S. 574, A bill to express the sense of Congress on Iraq , accessed Aug. 12, 2008
Today Show, NBC News, interview with Sen. Barack Obama, July 18, 2007
E-mail exchange with McCain spokesman Joseph Pounder, Aug. 11 and 12, 2008
Senate.gov, U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, H.R. 2206 , May 24, 2007
Obama.senate.gov, Obama Votes to Demand Changed Course in Iraq , May 24, 2007
Senate.gov, U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, H.R. 1591 , April 26, 2007
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