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In the final week before the election, the McCain campaign is airing a rerun.
The campaign announced on Oct. 28, 2008, that it was launching an ad called "Tiny" that alleges that Barack Obama described Iran as a "tiny" country that is not a serious threat to the United States. The ad, which was initially released in August, repeats a claim McCain made in a speech in May.
The ad opens with scary music, a photograph of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the words "Don't forget to say Death to America" painted on a wall.
"Iran. Radical Islamic government. Known sponsors of terrorism," the announcer says in a somber tone. "Developing nuclear capabilities to 'generate power' but threatening to eliminate Israel. Obama says Iran is a 'tiny' country, 'doesn't pose a serious threat.' Terrorism, destroying Israel, those aren't 'serious threats'? Obama – dangerously unprepared to be president."
Back in May, McCain made the claim in an address to the National Restaurant Association in Chicago. We rated that claim False. We examined it again in August when the ad first aired and again found the statement to be False . But the ad will be new to many viewers this week, so we are revisiting it here.
McCain is distorting Obama's original comments. Here’s the full context of Obama’s remarks in Pendelton, Ore., on May 18, 2008:
"Strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries," Obama said. "That’s what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That’s what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That’s what Nixon did with Mao. I mean, think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we’re going to wipe you off the planet. And ultimately that direct engagement led to a series of measures that helped prevent nuclear war, and over time allowed the kind of opening that brought down the Berlin Wall. Now, that has to be the kind of approach that we take.
"You know, Iran, they spend one-one hundredth of what we spend on the military. If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn’t stand a chance. And we should use that position of strength that we have to be bold enough to go ahead and listen. That doesn’t mean we agree with them on everything. We might not compromise on any issues, but at least we should find out other areas of potential common interest, and we can reduce some of the tensions that have caused us so many problems around the world."
McCain twisted Obama's words when he claimed that Obama characterized the threat from Iran as tiny or insignificant. Obama never said that.
Obama was speaking about whether to negotiate with Iran, which the Bush administration resisted. Obama noted that previous presidents had met with adversaries from the Soviet Union and China that were willing to destroy the United States, but that President Bush refused to meet directly with leaders of smaller global players such as Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.
Rather than dismiss those countries as insignificant, Obama was urging direct talks to engage them.
And Obama elaborated on his comments back in May when he issued a retort to McCain: "So John McCain, he said, ‘Oh, Obama doesn’t understand the threat of Iran.’ I understand the threat of Iran. But what I know is that the Soviet Union had the ability to destroy the world several times over, had satellites spanning the globe, had huge masses of conventional military power all directed at destroying us, and so I’ve made it clear for years that the threat from Iran is grave, but what I’ve said is that we should not just talk to our friends, we should be willing to engage our enemies as well, that’s what diplomacy is all about.
"So let me be absolutely clear: Iran is a grave threat. It has an illicit nuclear program, it supports terrorism across the region and militias in Iraq, it threatens Israel’s existence, it denies the Holocaust. But this threat has grown, primarily – and this is the irony – the reason Iran is so much more powerful now than it was a few years ago is because of the Bush-McCain policy of fighting an endless war in Iraq and refusing to pursue direct diplomacy with Iran."
This isn’t the first time Obama has talked about the grave threat posed by Iran. He has repeatedly characterized it as such during his campaign.
Obama never said the threat from Iran was "tiny" or "insignificant," only that the threat was tiny in comparison to the threat once posed by the Soviet Union. And if the McCain campaign was unclear on that point, it should have been clear after Obama's comment in May that "Iran is a grave threat." To continue to twist Obama's words, especially after that clarification, earns another False.
CNN, "CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate transcript" July 24, 2007
Wall Street Journal, "Prepared Text of Bush’s Knesset Speech" May 15, 2008
ABC News, "Obama’s Evolving Take on Meeting With Iran" by Rick Klein, May 20, 2008
YouTube, "Obama’s remarks on Iran in Pendelton, Ore." May 18, 2008
The Page Blog, "McCain’s Remarks on Obama and Iran to the National Restaurant Association" May 19, 2008
John McCain 2008, "John McCain On Senator Obama Calling The Threat From Iran ‘Tiny’"
Politico, "Obama on Iran: What’s McCain afraid of?" Ben Smith Blog, May 19, 2008
Time, "More McCain and Ahmadinejad" Posted by Joe Klein on Swampland blog, May 20, 2008
YouTube, "Barack Obama on Meet the Press" Nov. 11, 2007
Time, "Transcript of Obama Presser" Watertown, South Dakota, May 16, 2008
AP, "McCain hammers Obama on national security" by Libby Quaid, May 20, 2008
MSNBC, "Obama Fires Back at McCain" by Mark Murray for First read blog, May 19, 2008
Interview with Reginald Dale, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 19, 2008
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