John McCain has gleefully pounded Barack Obama in recent days for having traveled to Iraq only once since he entered Congress. But his arguments virtually mirror those used in a new attack ad by an independent conservative group, adding to the perception that there is a coordinated effort between McCain and the outside groups that his campaign has sought distance from.
On Wednesday, McCain ripped into Obama during an appearance in Reno, Nevada, claiming the Illinois Democrat lacked the leadership to navigate international waters in times of war. The language he used was telling (emphasis added below).
"Senator Obama has been to Iraq once. A little over two years ago he went, and he has never seized the opportunity, except in a hearing, to meet with General Petraeus, with General Petraeus! My friends, this is about leadership and learning," McCain said. "Now, why is it that Senator Obama wants to sit down with the President of Iran, but hasn't yet sat down with General Petraeus - the leader of our troops in Iraq?"
Last Friday, the organization Vets for Freedom, a non-partisan pro-Iraq war organization, released an advertisement attacking Obama with the same language.
"Obama wasn't available to meet with us [combat veterans]," Sgt. Garrett Anderson (Ret.) of Illinois' Army National Guard says to the camera. "But we weren't surprised. Because he hasn't once, sat down one-on-one with our in Iraq, Gen. Petraeus. Worse, he hasn't been to Iraq in two-and-a-half years. He's unwilling to get the facts on Iraq, yet he is willing to travel to Iran to meet with their leader or anyone else who hates our country. The question for America is, if Barack Obama won't listen to us, who will he listen to?"
Message coordination between like-minded candidates and interest groups is hardly a novel concept in politics. In fact, around the same time as McCain's speech, the Republican National Committee started a clock tracking the number of days it has been since Obama visited Iraq.
But the Arizona Republican has positioned his campaign as a decidedly distinct entity from groups that dabble in attack politics. He has even implemented an internal campaign ethics policy that restricts campaign officials from collaborating or serving with these very organizations.
"No person with a McCain Campaign title or position may participate in a 527 or other independent entity that makes public communications that support or oppose any presidential candidate," the new policy reads.
Already there are questions about the firmness of that pledge. As the Huffington Post reported last week, Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, both of whom hold chairs for the McCain campaign, are also on the board of advisers of Vets for Freedom.
In response to the onslaught of attacks, the Obama campaign - taking the hook of former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's new book - shot back.
"On the day after the former White House press secretary conceded that the Bush administration used deception and propaganda to take us to war, it seems odd that Senator McCain, who bought the flawed rationale for war so readily, would be lecturing others on their depth of understanding about Iraq," said Obama press secretary Bill Burton in a statement. "Senator Obama challenged the President's rationale for the war from the start, warning that it would divert resources from Afghanistan and the pursuit of Al Qaeda and mire us in an endless civil war. Senator McCain stubbornly insists on pursuing the failed Bush policy..."