Troop Numbers Flap is 'Nitpicking,' Say McCain Advisers
By Michael D. Shear
Advisers to Sen. John McCain said the flap over whether the senator was mistaken about the troop level in Iraq is nothing more than "nitpicking" about "verb tenses."
McCain said yesterday that "we have drawn down to pre-surge levels," despite the fact that two of the five brigades that were added during the surge are not scheduled to be home until the end of July.
Democrats seized on the gaffe, saying that it shows he either "doesn't know the facts on the ground in Iraq or he is continuing the Bush Administration's pattern of intentionally misleading the public."
But McCain's advisers, including Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and McCain's foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, both hit back hard on a conference call this afternoon.
"It is the essence of semantics," a frustrated Scheunemann told reporters who asked about the mistake. "We're having this call about a verb tense. If you choose to write a story about Senator McCain and a verb tense, you need to hold Senator Obama to the exact same standard."
Scheunemann and Kyl both accused Obama of trying to change the subject away from his own lack of experience in dealing with foreign policy and Iraq.
"They don't want to talk about [broader security issues] because they don't care what the events are on the ground," Scheunemann said, accusing Obama of favoring "retreat and surrender, regardless of the events on the ground."
Scheunemann refused to acknowledge that McCain had been mistaken in his comments of the troop levels. He argued that McCain could just as easily have said "We are drawing down to pre-surge levels" instead.
"The difference is so miniscule, I'm not sure it even rises to the level of nitpicking."
Kyl, though, had an answer for those who think it was a clear mistake.
"So what?" he asked. "What does that amount to?"
Posted at 2:12 PM ET on May 30, 2008
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