On Sunday, aides to John McCain attacked Barack Obama on an area that the Illinois Democrat considers a foreign policy strength: the willingness to refocus attention and resources to the war in Afghanistan.
In a conference call designed primarily to paint Obama as inconsistent on Iraq, the McCain campaign - for, perhaps, the first time this election - lashed out against their Democratic rival for voting to cut funds for the other war.
"He voted to cut off all funds not just for Iraq but for Afghanistan," said Randy Scheunemann, a senior foreign policy adviser to the Arizona Republican. "Had he had his way on the supplemental bill in May 2007... there would have been no funding for the troops in the field, for their operations, for their body armor and fuel... he voted to cut off all funds for Iraq and for Afghanistan."
The remarks came shortly after news broke that nine U.S. troops had been killed in battle with Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan. Those deaths added to what has become an increasingly dire situation in that country. The casualty count for American forces in Afghanistan has been at its highest mark since 2001. And over the past two months more military personnel have died there, than in Iraq.
That the McCain campaign would attack Obama for undermining the effort on that front is something of a political role reversal. Over the past few weeks, it has been the Obama campaign that has primarily accused McCain of pursuing a policy that put Afghanistan on the back burner and, as such, distracted America from the broader goals of the war on terror. McCain himself has held to the belief that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is unrelated to the resources that the U.S. has invested in Iraq.
"Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq," said the presumptive GOP nominee back in April 2008.
In contrast, citing grim testimony from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Obama has pledged to immediately withdraw ground troops in Iraq with the express desire of sending them to the frontlines of the battles in Afghanistan.
"It's time to refocus our attention on the war we have to win in Afghanistan," the Senator said in early July. "It is time to go after the Al Qaeda leadership where it actually exists."
The vote that the McCain campaign referenced was a May 2007 supplemental bill to provide $94.4 billion in funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure passed the Senate by a margin of 80 to 14, but both Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton voted nay; primarily because it did not include a policy for removing U.S. troops from Iraq.
"Enough is enough," Obama said at the time, before adding that President Bush should not get "a blank check to continue down this same, disastrous path."
Attacking a member of Congress for opposing supplemental bills can be misleading. Many members of the House and Senate GOP, for example, have opposed or filibustered war funding measures for both Iraq and Afghanistan because they included time lines for troop withdrawals. As an aide to Obama was quick to note the fact that he didn't vote for the May 2007 supplemental does not "mean he doesn't support the idea that we need more resources in Afghanistan." In fact, that aide added, it has been Obama (not McCain) who has "been consistent in saying we need to get folks out of Iraq to help in Afghanistan."
Obama is slated to visit both Iraq and Afghanistan later this month.