Today, John McCain's campaign debuted a slickly produced, nearly 8-minute long video that shows what they perceive to be Barack Obama's constantly shifting positions on Iraq. Featuring selected soundbites from various cable TV appearances that are smash-cut next to inconsistent-sounding other soundbites from speeches or debates (and even local media appearances from before he became a Senator), the video is intended to show that the Illinois Democrat routinely puts political expediency before national security concerns.
And while some of the juxtapositions do indeed show Obama taking different positions -- such as on troop funding, or whether or not the "surge" strategy could be expected to reduce violence -- the overall claim that the presumptive Democratic nominee always subordinates national security concerns to political expediency would seem to be undercut by his initial opposition to the war at a time in which many Democrats thought of military action as a fait accompli, and therefore safe to support.
Asked after the official debut of the video whether Obama had ever shown any courage on the issue of Iraq, or if he'd ever risked political capital to stake out a national security position, McCain's senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann declined an opportunity to sully Obama's entire record, telling the Huffington Post that Obama's calculations on Iraq began "when he started running for president."
Asked whether it was fair to note that McCain has also flirted with inconsistency, such as on the matter of how much he supported President Bush's leadership, Scheunemann scoffed "I don't think you're gonna find many" pro-Bush statements from McCain on Iraq dating after 2003.
But, as Think Progress reported in April, McCain took to a popular conservative radio host's talk show to claim that "no one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have" -- a position at odds with McCain's more routine line that he was unafraid to take political hits for opposing the president's previous, failed strategy after 2003.
And of course, this week McCain has been accused by the Obama campaign of flip-flopping on the question of whether more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan. But Scheunemann fought back against that claim, saying: "He always been open to more [U.S.] troops. He's never said he was opposed to additional forces. He's been calling on NATO to send additional forces. ... But the situation has deteriorated to a point where we need to send additional forces. The preference is to work with NATO to get 'em. But clearly there's gonna be a mix of U.S. and NATO forces."
And while it's true that McCain has never directly "opposed" sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, before this week he was in the habit of saying that the surge of troops in Iraq had not hurt America's effort in Afghanistan -- and that NATO troops were the only kind of additional forces required. Considering that troop deployment between Afghanistan and Iraq is something of a zero-sum game given the over-stretched military, supporting a surge in Iraq is, practically speaking, very much like opposing sending more troops anywhere else. As Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen said in June: "I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq."
The bottom line, of course, is that in the course of winning a primary and then campaigning in a general election, both candidates have shaded and emphasized different statements and parts of their respective records, some of which can be embarrassing when cut together. But at the debut of the new McCain video, it was clear that at least one Republican surrogate thought the party had caught Obama cold. McCain's fellow Arizona Senator John Kyl stood at the side of the room at the Capital Hill club as the video played for reporters, a sly grin spanning the length of his face.