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NSN Fact Check: McCain's Rhetoric Doesn't Reflect Reality

03/26/2008 01:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Today Senator John McCain gave a foreign policy speech written as if the last five years had never happened:

* McCain spoke eloquently about the horrors of war, yet has a long history of being too reliant on military action.
* McCain's own rhetoric since 9-11 helped promote the Bush Administration's failed war and mocked and alienated many of the important allies McCain now says we must re-engage.
* McCain's Iraq war-first view of the world that is the greatest obstacle to the kinds of changes McCain says he wants to make.
* McCain cannot repair our relationships with the world as long as there are more than 100,000 American troops still in Iraq.
* McCain ignores the alarms sent up by our nation's intelligence agencies who believe that the central threat to the U.S. homeland is in Pakistan - not Iraq.
* McCain rejects reality on the ground in Iraq, which today includes a flare-up of the civil war between various Shi'a factions that threatens the most basic foundations of our effort there.

John McCain's Glowing Rhetoric Is Not Consistent With His History Of Calling for Military Action

"Political reconciliation is occurring across Iraq at the local and provincial grassroots level. Sunni and Shi'a chased from their homes by terrorist and sectarian violence are returning."- John McCain

In 2000, McCain argued for "rogue state rollback" insisting that the United States should overthrow Iraq, North Korea and Libya. "McCain called Tuesday for the overthrow of Iraq, Libya and North Korea if they continue to develop weapons of mass destruction. "I'd institute a policy that I call "rogue state rollback," McCain said in a Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, where he is in a make-or-break primary race with frontrunner George W. Bush." [Agence France Presse, 2/16/2000]

Days after 9/11 and before U.S. forces had even invaded Afghanistan, McCain was focused on attacking countries that had nothing to do with 9/11 - Iraq, Iran, Syria - and said picking which one to attack would be the tough part. "That's where the tough part of this whole scenario is going to begin. And that is that, after the Taliban are overthrown -- which I believe they will be -- I have very little doubt in my mind -- after bin Laden is either taken prisoner or killed and his network is destroyed, then what's next? Obviously, Iraq is still bent on -- Saddam Hussein is still bent on developing weapons of mass destruction. Obviously, the Iranians are still supporting terrorist organizations, as are the Syrians. That's where the tough choices and decisions are going to be made." [MSNBC, Hardball, 10/3/01]

As U.S. begins war in Afghanistan, McCain agrees with Sean Hannity that Afghanistan is just the first of many nations to attack - focuses on Iraq. Sean Hannity asked McCain, "You're also clear, Senator, that this is not just against the Taliban and Usama bin Laden." McCain responded "Absolutely. Look, there are other nations that are sheltering terrorists and assisting terrorist organizations and, in the case of Saddam Hussein, developing weapons of mass destruction as quickly as we can. We need to take care of bin Laden and the terrorist network in Afghanistan, and then we have to move on and address other countries." [11/9/01]

McCain: Maybe A Hundred Years in Iraq. In an interview on "Face the Nation," host Bob Schieffer asked McCain about staying in Iraq for 100 years. McCain responded, "I don't think Americans are concerned if we're there for 100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years. [Salon.com , 1/15/08]

McCain thought war with North Korea was inevitable in 1994. "In a chilling message to colleagues on the eve of Memorial Day, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned that a major war with North Korea is inevitable unless America finds a way to deter Kim Il Sung, a dictator bent on crashing the nuclear club and unleashing weapons of mass destruction around the world." [The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), May 30, 1994]

McCain was against peace-making efforts in Northern Ireland. "Motivated by romantic, anachronistic notions of Irish republicanism, some prominent Irish-Americans persuaded the president (over the objection of the State Department) to jump headfirst into the Northern Ireland problem, severely straining our relations with London." McCain that by President Clinton's "mistaken involvement in the Northern Ireland problem, President Clinton has deepened the risk to his credibility and further damaged relations with our British allies." [Foreign Policy, Summer 1996]

McCain Attacked and Mocked Allies and Institutions for Opposing the War in Iraq - Now Calls for Respecting Views of Allies

"Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed. We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies." - John McCain

John McCain joined in the far-right's anti-French bashing when France opposed the invasion of the war. "The Lord said the poor will always be with us, and the French will be with us, too," said McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee. "This is part of a continuing French practice of throwing sand in the gears of the Atlantic alliance. But now they're playing a dangerous game, and coming close to rendering themselves irrelevant." A few days later he even, "likened France to an aging '40s starlet "still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn't have the face for it." [NY Times, 2/14/03. NY Daily News, 2/17/03]

McCain calls for respecting collective views of allies - but called them "vacuous and posturing" for opposing war in Iraq. "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that "Iraq is the test" of both the U.N. and NATO. He charged that the alliance is failing the test because of the "flawed calculations" and "vacuous posturing" of Germany and France. McCain and Rumsfeld both said that recent French and German foot-dragging over even discussing the possible deployment of NATO assets, such as Patriot anti-missile batteries, to Turkey also threatened to damage the alliance." [Washington Post, 2/9/03]

McCain attacked Germany for opposing the war - saying they lacked "political courage." McCain said that former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder "looks little like the ally that anchored our presence in Europe throughout the Cold War. A German Rip Van Winkle from the 1960s would not understand the lack of political courage and cooperation with its allies on the question of Iraq exhibited in Berlin today." [Washington Times, 2/14/03]

On the war path, McCain said he didn't care if invading Iraq damaged UN, though Iraq would prove UN to be irrelevant.
"If war is necessary, the United States will not 'be going it alone,' he said, but will wage war in Iraq with a coalition of allies - with or without the blessing of the United Nations. 'The problem here is not whether we do damage to the United Nations if we have to take military action,' he said. 'The question is, will the United Nations follow the League of Nations and risk irrelevancy.'" [Washington Times, 2/14/03]

McCain Argues that We Should Work More Closely with Allies, but We Cannot Do that with 150,000 Troops Still in Iraq

"If we are successful in pulling together a global coalition for peace and freedom -- if we lead by shouldering our international responsibilities and pointing the way to a better and safer future for humanity, I believe we will gain tangible benefits as a nation." - John McCain

Global respect for the United States is evaporating, even among our closest allies. Only 30 percent of Germans now have a positive view of the United States, down from 78 percent before Bush took office in January 2001. In Turkey, a Muslim democracy and NATO ally, only 9 percent now have a favorable view, down from 52 percent in late 2001. Most alarming is that just 51 percent of Britons - our partner in Iraq and our most reliable ally - now hold favorable views of the United States, down from 75 percent before the Iraq invasion. [IHT, 6/27/07 . Pew Global Attitudes Project, 6/27/07 . NY Times, 2/07/08 ]

Because of the abrasive and dismissive treatment of our allies, the United States now faces dwindling support for its mission in Afghanistan. "Referring to American pressure on Germany, Peter Schmidt, a security analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, said, "Partners in an alliance have to also understand the domestic debates in a partner country like Germany." He added: "The Americans quite often show up in Europe and the President tells us, 'Look I'll never get that through Congress.' Something similar is happening here." [NY Times, 2/07/08]

Our image in the Muslim world is hurting our ability to fight Al Qaeda. In countries across the Muslim world from Pakistan to Morocco our image is so tainted that local politicians who work closely with the United States are viewed with suspicion or simply discredited, making it far more difficult for us to win the ideological struggle with Al Qaeda. [Rand Beers, Testimony Before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, 2/28/08 ]

McCain is Focused on the Wrong War. The Intelligence Community Agrees that the Greatest Threat is From Afghanistan and Pakistan - Not Iraq

"Those who claim we should withdraw from Iraq in order to fight Al Qaeda more effectively elsewhere are making a dangerous mistake."

The National Intelligence Estimate explicitly states that the Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan is the number one threat to the United States. "Al Qaeda is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership." [National Intelligence Estimate, 7/07 ]

Al Qaeda's central leadership in Pakistan has a track record of spectacular attacks against Americans. The 9/11 attacks were planned by Al Qaeda's top leadership in Afghanistan, as were the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998. Al Qaeda central was also involved in the thwarted, but most devastating, known plot in recent memory, which involved liquid explosives set to be simultaneously detonated on numerous transatlantic flights. [Memorial Institution for the Prevention of Terrorism ]

Al Qaeda has established a new and dangerous safe haven in northwest Pakistan. Edward Gistaro, the chief US intelligence analyst for international terrorism, told Congress that: "The primary concern is in Al Qaeda in South Asia organizing its own plots against the United States." The top leaders of the terrorist network, Gistaro added, are "able to exploit the comfort zone in the tribal areas" of Pakistan and Afghanistan and are "bringing people in to train for Western operations." [Boston Globe, 7/26/07 ]

We're not winning the war on terror. 84% of foreign policy experts told an independent bipartisan survey that they do not think the United States is winning the war on terror. They overwhelmingly believe that Pakistan is the country most likely to transfer weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups, and from which an attack is most likely to originate. [Terrorism Index, 8/20/07 ]

Afghanistan has been neglected and is now in danger of collapse. A bi-partisan panel headed by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and General James Jones found that"The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy to fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans." [Center for the Study of the Presidency, 1/30/08 ]

Al Qaeda is getting stronger. The nation's 16 intelligence agencies agree that the war in Iraq has made Al Qaeda stronger by creating a recruiting tool and "cause celebre" for terrorists. [National Intelligence Assessment, 7/06 .]

McCain is Ignoring the Realities on the Ground in Iraq

"Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is the establishment of peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states that pose no threat to neighbors and contribute to the defeat of terrorists. It is the triumph of religious tolerance over violent radicalism." - John McCain

A cease-fire with Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army that is critical to the improved security situation in Iraq has unraveled. Heavy fighting broke out Tuesday in two of Iraq's largest cities, as Iraqi ground forces and helicopters mounted a huge operation to break the grip of the Shiite militias controlling Basra, and Iraqi forces clashed with militias in Baghdad's Sadr City. At least 55 people have been killed and 300 wounded in Basra and Baghdad after the fighting spread to the capital's main Shi'a district of Sadr City, police and hospital officials said. There were also serious clashes in the southern cities of Kut and Hilla. The fighting raised fears that Moqtada al Sadr, the Shi'a cleric in charge of the Mahdi Army, could pull out of a cease-fire declared last summer that has helped reduce the level of violence in Iraq. [NY Times, 3/26/08 . AP, 3/26/08 ]

Although Sadr officials said the cease-fire was still in effect, on Monday Mr. Sadr called for a nationwide civil disobedience campaign in response to what his followers said was an unwarranted crackdown. Some Mahdi commanders referred to an edict by Mr. Sadr saying their militias had the right of self-defense. The Sadrists are angry over recent raids and detentions, saying U.S. and Iraqi forces have taken advantage of the cease-fire to crack down on the movement. They also have accused rival Shi'a parties, which control Iraqi security forces, of engineering the arrests to prevent them from mounting an effective election campaign. [NY Times, 3/26/08 . AP, 3/26/08 ]

Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki issued an ultimatum on Wednesday, giving militants in the southern oil port of Basra a three-day deadline to surrender their weapons and renounce violence. The ultimatum came as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was in Basra to supervise a crackdown against the spiraling violence between militia factions vying for control of the center of the country's vast oil industry located near the Iranian border. Sadiq al-Rikabi, a chief adviser to al-Maliki, said, "Any gunman who does not [turn over their weapons] within these three days will be an outlaw," he said. The burgeoning crisis - part of an intense power struggle among Shi'a political factions - also will test the skill and resolve of Iraq's Shi'a-led government in dealing with Shi'a militias, with whom the national leadership had maintained close ties. [NY Times, 3/26/08 . AP, 3/26/08]