See John McCain on the economy and gas prices, and on Iraq, toward the end of the interview above aired by NBC Today.
by Mark Silva
Sen. John McCain's campaign and allies rallied to the defense of McCain's televised comment today that an estimate for American troop withdrawals from Iraq is "not too important,'' and Democrats pounced on the Republican for displaying what they want to portray as little concern for the forces serving there.
"Appearing on NBC's Today show, McCain was asked if he has an estimate for when U.S. troops might leave Iraq.
"No, but that's not too important," McCain replied. "What's important is casualties in Iraq... Americans are in South Korea. Americans are in Japan. American troops are in Germany. That's all fine. American casualties, and the ability to withdraw. We will be able to withdraw. ... But the key to it is we don't want any more Americans in harm's way."
Among the first to seize on the comment: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who said: "McCain's statement today that withdrawing troops doesn't matter is a crystal-clear indicator that he just doesn't get the grave national-security consequences of staying the course.... We need a smart change in strategy to make America more secure, not a commitment to indefinitely keep our troops in an intractable civil war."
Sen Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: "Senator McCain's comment is evidence that he is totally out of touch with the needs of our troops and the national security needs of our nation. It think many of our brave soldiers and their families would disagree that it's not too important when they come home.''
The McCain campaign enlisted two senators of its own - Sens. Joseph Lieberman, (I-Conn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) for rapid response.
"To put it mildly, I'm disappointed by these reflexive attacks on what Sen. McCain said this morning on the Today show,'' Lieberman said in a campaign conference call with reporters. "It's very obvious what John McCain is saying, and it's consistent with what he's said along the way.''
Lieberman called attacks on McCain from Sen. Barack Obama's allies "another partisan attempt to distort John McCain's words, to distract the American people from the fact that John McCain has been... right about the surge in Iraq and Barack Obama has been consistently wrong.
"Sen. McCain is saying, answering a question of what his estimate is, based on the success of the surge,'' Lieberman said. "He says he doesn't have the estimate because he's expecting it from Gen. Petraeus in July, but the most important thing to him is that because of the success of the surge American casualties are down... Most important to him is that American troops will come home with honor, which is what they want.
"The obvious fact is that, more than any American, Sen. McCain knows the sacrifices that our men and women make in uniform... from his own service and incarceration, from his eight visits to Iraq... and of course the fact that his son was deployed in Iraq,'' Lieberman said. "John McCain has always said that he wants to see our troops succeed in Iraq'' and come home based on the advice of commanders of the ground, not "some artificial timeline'' invented by politicians in Washington.
Thune called the criticism of McCain "a deliberate distortion... The Democrats are trying to blow this up as an issue because they don't want to talk about the successes of the surge... It's been 885 days since Sen. Obama has visited Iraq and he hasn't had a meeting with Gen. Petraeus....'' And to suggest that McCain doesn't understand the sacrifices our troops are making, Thune said, "is just absurd.''
"To put it in a basketball term,'' Thune said, "this is a head-fake and I think what people need to do is keep their eyes on the ball.''
Randy Scheunemann, director of foreign policy for the McCain campaign, turned the criticism on the Obama campaign: "Clearly, the Obama campaign is playing the cynical politics of the past, and they want to divert attention from the success of the strategy in Iraq and that they are so wedded to defeat.
"The question was, do you now have a better estimate of when American troops can come home, and he said no, that's not too important,'' Scheunemann said. "The key is that we don't want any more Americans in harm's way... The problem is, if you start constructing your remarks to defend against people who will distort them, you will not be the straight talker that John McCain is... He was straight-talking here.''