09/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Richard Clarke: "Quick Draw John" McCain Wanted War Before Bush Did

The campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain both held conference calls Wednesday afternoon to hammer each other on national security.

McCain's message came a bit muddled. His campaign's call -- which took as its focus the a new report that one of Obama's advisers spoke with Syria's foreign minister last month -- started out with a factual error and ended by cutting off a critical-sounding question from a journalist.

First, McCain surrogate Rudolph Giuliani mistakenly suggested that former Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer had met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, when in fact he had met with Syria's foreign minister. When McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheuneman jumped on the call, he had to "clarify."

Later, when Ron Kampeas from Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked how the McCain could square its critique of Obama's adviser with senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann's own lobbying work on behalf of foreign governments, he was suddenly disconnected from the call in mid-sentence. Kampeas told the Politico he thought he was "cut off."

As for the call's substance, it was mostly a re-hash of the "judgment" criticisms previously lobbed Obama's way -- plus some unadulterated speculation. "Maybe this is a playing out of his [call for] negotiating with dictators without preconditions," Giuliani offered.

On the Obama call, foreign policy adviser Susan Rice emphasized that Kurtzer had undertaken his Syrian visit as a private citizen, and that he wasn't even a paid campaign adviser in the first place. "The McCain campaign continues to level dishonest attacks on Barack Obama's integrity and patriotism," Rice said, adding that Americans were tired of "Karl Rove's say anything, do anything politics." Rice also accused McCain of trying to "mislead the American people in order to obscure his own record of failed policy judgments."

Joining Rice on the Obama call was former National Security Council counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, who dubbed the presumptive Republican nominee "Quick Draw John." Clarke drew on his experience on the NSC to talk about McCain's own judgment after Sept. 11, 2001, saying that McCain was pushing for war with Iraq before the Bush administration had even made its own mind up on the matter. "Sen. McCain had already decided," Clarke said. "He and his neoconservative foreign policy types that he agreed with are one of the reasons that George W. Bush decided to go to Iraq."

When asked by a reporter whether it was inconsistent for Obama surrogates to accuse McCain of misleading the public while also saying that discussion of patriotism should be out of bounds, Clarke had a retort ready. "I'm sure he [McCain] loves his country. It's just that loving your country and lying to the American people are apparently not inconsistent in his view."