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Troop Numbers Flap is 'Nitpicking,' Say McCain Advisers

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks at a news conference Friday, May 30, 2008, in Milwaukee. (Associated Press)

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?"

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 30, 2008; 2:12 PM ET
Categories:  John McCain  
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I can't believe all the ignorant comments I've seen here. As a veteran I'd first like to say that the news-media gets it wrong 90% of the time but you just sit and swallow what they feed you.

It's time to stop drinking the kool-aid, kids. Most of you who talk about McCain at as if you even know the difference between Sunni and Shi'ite, but you don't. The press hypes up the "civil war" thing and you think it's real.

What's real is that Obama is out of touch. He offers nothing but words with nothing behind them. Words with no backing is just hot air.

A REAL CHANGE is John McCain, but you choose to be too blind to see it. He is not the same as the past sixteen Clinton-Bush years. Obama and the DNC feed on your fears, throw out the buzz-words, and you lap it up like good dogs.

Read what John McCain is really about. Understand that CNN lies to you almost constantly about Iraq, but you like what you hear so you believe it. Question the media more often. When I was in Iraq I was able to see all the US news networks, and I was appalled at how badly CNN reported stories about what happenned.

Maybe that's why they're news STORIES.

P.S. Check out the number of highway fatalities in the us prior to us going to Iraq. Why don't we protest our "Failed Road System"? You hippocrites. We lost 85,889 people in 2002 & 2003 on America's roadways, yet you probably haven't been keeping track of that. Shame on you.

Posted by: TopherBear | June 4, 2008 8:45 PM | Report abuse

I am tired of folks who say that if you have not served in the military you have not served your country. Many people serve our countries in ways that are outside of the military. Obama for one has served our country and Illinois very faithfully by defending the rights of folks right here in America. Those rights were fought for very bravely by many and need defending here in America.

Do not tell me the I have not served because I did not pick up a gun. I chose to be a pastor and serve in the support of peace and moral upbringing. That includes not slandering someone when I have not walked in their footsteps and honoring those who choose to do what God has called them to do.

My prayer for this election is that John McCain would speak for John McCain and Barack Obama speak for Barack Obama. Both are fine candidates called to lead. They are both diminished by their hatchet teams that tear down the other.

Posted by: Mike Sutherland | June 2, 2008 2:50 PM | Report abuse

"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."

what??? anyone remember the WEEKS of crap Obama got over "bitter"? yet everyone else gets to laugh off their gaffs.

give me a friggen break.

Posted by: jencm | June 2, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

If I remember correctly, not serving in the military is not a requirement to serve as President of the United States. Last time I looked, W has a questionable military record; we have a coward of a Vice-President who got 5 deferrments to get out of going to war because of "other priorities", as Cheney has said so many times. Coward!!
It's no wonder that an overwhelming majority think this administration will go down as a miserable failure! An administration who has lied continually to the American. We have an administration who is as incompetent as they come.
Think of it. Bush took the eye off the ball when we neglected going after Osama bin Laden, instead going to war in Iraq, which we had no business doing.
The Taliban is now stronger than ever; opium is now growing at an alarming rate there.
If McCain is elected President, we will have 4 more years of the Bush agenda. With all of his "misstatements", you have to wonder about his age. I still see images of Reagan falling asleep at important cabinet meetings. Is this what we want in a leader?
Didn't think so.

Posted by: cvc | May 31, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

"Ask yourselves. If really, really bad people came to your front door, who would YOU want standing with you to protect YOUR family?"rodmiller

Obviously not some broken down old man who uses only one arm and waddles everywhere. 1200 page medical record?

Posted by: dcdoug | May 31, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I am surprised Rove's brief to McCain might have avoided 'verb tense' errors.

Rove, a strict believer in a hierarchical, judgemental, rule based closed societies was damned after revealing an outsiders name which in a wider context compromised national security and endangered the lives of other government agents working for national security, is certainly an asset for Obama. May he continue to donate to McCain and unfold his next architectural plan in true Episcopal quality?

Posted by: Mark Golding - Children of Iraq Association | May 31, 2008 9:21 AM | Report abuse

From the Keating Five matter, where McCain's Wife's Family invested $350,000, through the female lobbist traveling companion who is suspected of having an amorous connection to McCain, through the Rev Hagee matter, through Charles Black the lobbyist, to the Northrup Grumman oversea deal, and through McCain's obvious ignorance of economics and foreign matters the press constantly tries to sell him as a republican who is different from Bush...Nothing is further from the truth

Posted by: Jim | May 31, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Five years of torture "entitle" McCain to the Presidency?

It entitles him to respect, gratitude, and solicitude. We also owe his son gratitude. But the Presidency is not an award.

The Presidency is a national and international responsibility, which, you may recall, both Washington and Eisenhower warned should not be routinely filled by the military. Indeed, few of our greatest presidents ever served in the military -- or do you think Lincoln and FDR were unimportnat?

In that context, McCain's continuing confusions -- on military matters -- are alarming. He didn't approve of the invasion because it was too measly, but he approved of the so-called surge, he will never surrender, he plans to withdraw our troops by 2013, he thinks we have fewer troops there now than we actually have -- this man is on the Military Affairs committee!

Posted by: Helen | May 30, 2008 11:54 PM | Report abuse

Maybe, MaCain would change his tune if his son never came back from Iraq?

Posted by: Bill | May 30, 2008 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Lets not "nitpick" over our future. What does it matter if we live or die? It's just a state of being.

Posted by: McCain | May 30, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Mr Miller - I appreciate your points of view but must respectfully disagree with you on one of your items. The 4,000 Americans killed in Iraq can't be justified by 9/11. It was the Saudis who flew those planes into our buildings not people from Iraq. A connection between Iraq and those terrorists was never established.

Also, I admire your conviction and point of view that we shouldn't whine over our dead. Your strong writings indicate you're a warrior of some merit. I was in the Army and worked in Fire Direction Control for the Artilley - you know, Hot Steel On Target On Time. What branch of the service were you in?

Posted by: robert1 | May 30, 2008 4:43 PM | Report abuse

No matter how the rightwingnuts in the GOP try to spin it, November is looking better for the Democrats with each passing day. McCain is coming across as totally out of touch with the reality on the ground in Iraq. You'd think he'd try harder after his "Sunni/Shi'a" flubs and his pollyanna comments after his heavily guarded "stroll" through the Shorja marketplace in Baghdad, but no.

I keep thinking back to Gerald Ford insisting that Soviet-occupied Poland "is and shall always remain free" in one of the 1976 presidential debates. I wonder why that is...?

Posted by: whatmeregister | May 30, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

"... The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." ... Thomas Jefferson.

Funny quote for a Republican. I think it would be pretty plain to think if Jefferson was alive today the Bush Administration would be the tryants and he would be dissappointed that we haven't rose up to take them down.

Posted by: Mr. Peace | May 30, 2008 4:26 PM | Report abuse

John, you are doing serious drugs or are completely ignorant. NONE of what you say is valid except, yes Obama slipped and said 57 states. He meets continually with the press has countless town halls and has never said half the insane rhetoric that you are saying. Anyway there is a BIG difference in someone who "claims" to be a forign policy expert dismissing thousands of soliders in his attempt to "sell" a civil war that we should never have incited and he voted to begin in the first place.

Posted by: Shannon | May 30, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Today is like all the other's. The hack attack is out in force to diss John McCain. The torture that McCain endured as a POW fro 5 1/5 years in Viet Nam (Under Kennedy-Johnson by the way to the tune of 58,000 lives) entitles him to 4 years.

At least we KNOW McCain is a LOYAL American who loves his country.

We have NO record of Michelle or Barack Hussein Obama having given service to their country ... They have only taken for personal gain and ambition for power. The media vilified VP Dan Quayle for word spelling, Yet Obama gets a free pass for multiple gaffes. 57 states indeed! I have a list of over 75 LIES and mis-speaks and it is growing. This guy is a BS'er from the word go.

As for Hillary. How could anyone take anything she says seriously? Does anyone think she can manage a COUNTRY based on the performance of her campaign. Hill reminds of an old movie ... the one with the mean-spirited, evil sorority president. NO THANKS!

Ask yourselves. If really, really bad people came to your front door, who would YOU want standing with you to protect YOUR family?

So, you historically challenged nit-pickers should be ashamed of yourselves! AND, should you ever meet John McCain you should KISS HIS FEET in gratitude. Too, you should reflect on 58,000 lives lost when our country was NOT attacked and quit whining about 4,000 lost as a result of when America WAS attacked.

"... The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." ... Thomas Jefferson.

Posted by: RodMiller | May 30, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

It is so easy to push this guys buttons.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

McCain's camp is just upset the press hasn't given Grandpa a free pass on his mess-ups like they always do.

Does this mean we're finally going to see some real scrutiny over McCain's "knowledge" about foreign affairs? Dare to dream.

Posted by: ManUnitdFan | May 30, 2008 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Our most precious blood continues to die in Iraq, but I guess that's OK because things are getting better.

Obama says we should get out. McCain says he's going to stay and never surrender.

We say Iran is the most destabilizing force in the Middle East yet the Swiss just signed a $34B business deal with them. Should we bomb those clockmakers?

Military suicides are up dramatically and our equipment including boats, planes, tanks, and other vehicles are in bad shape and will need extensive repairs or be replaced. The Chinese will help us to do this by buying our goverment investment instruments and increasing the national debt.

This latest dust up about troop numbers is really very sad. With all that needs to be done, this is the focus of the current news cycle?

Posted by: robert1 | May 30, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

For someone who claims to be an expert on Iraq and the middle east, McCain seems to know very little about the region.

Posted by: Tom | May 30, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

McCain will fudge these numbers just like he fudged the numbers on the POW/MIA's from Vietnam!

Posted by: Wendy | May 30, 2008 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Well on one hand we have radicals banning guns and making racist comments on the other we have deception and the need to control.

Posted by: William Jones Duluth, Georgia | May 30, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

was Auschwitz soviet?

Posted by: epl | May 30, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Forget both of them if you want to stop the government from running every aspect of our lives vote for Ron Paul. Big Govt. = Big Corruption which is what The current Administration in Washington is pushing for and counting on. Wake up and think about the information that is being fed to you.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 30, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

McCain's statement is/was generally correct. The US is drawing (or has drawn) down to pre-surge levels in Iraq. It must be a slow news day when this is a story.

Posted by: foo | May 30, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Awwww, are those bad Obameanies picking on you Grampa?

TOO BAD. Get used to it.

Crazy Ol' Grampa McSame doesn't even know the difference between Sunni and Shia, what that has to do with al Qaeda / Iraq / Iran. McCain admitted the invasion of Iraq was all about OIL and is of course "fine" with sending more US troops to die for lies and oil for "100 Years."

He even opposes higher eductation for US troops because he wants to keep them ig'nernt and dead for oil.

He doesn't even know CZECHOSLOVAKIA hasn't been a country for oh, almost 20 years and wants to waste billions on a fantasy missle defense shield while our schools and bridges crumble and collapse.

Obama makes gaffes, but McCain is a typical, flip-flopping, pandering, lobbyist bought & sold, career Washington politician with no vision beyond the failed policies of one retarded monkey named GW Bush, no integrity and no hope. He only sees the world through the twisted prism of WAR and has never met an issue he won't flippity-flop depending on the audience.

This is gonna be fun. Obama is smarter, sharper and has a more educated and rational view of how the world works beyond the military industrial complex.

Time for a change.

Posted by: Shawn | May 30, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

The surge was announced when two of the brigades were already on the ground and the extra marines were on the ground.

McCain is right since the surge was announced three brigades have gone to Iraq and three have rotated out. The other two are rotating out as we speak.

McCain has talked many times how the final troops in petreaus plan will be back by july. He was taken out of context again. He was saying they were drawing down.

McCain talks to the press for hours a day.

McCain is always holding town halls.

Obama never talks to the press or has town halls.

Obama the other day said the soviets didn't occupy Poland.

Obama made a ford like gaffe. Auschwitz is in Poland.

Posted by: Jason | May 30, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

McCain has a son who just came back from Iraq.

Barack Hussein Obama has NEVER sacrificed anything for this country.

Barack Hussein Obama is a foreign agent unfit to be commander and chief.

He hangs out with Father Plager and Wright who love Farakkan.

Obama still goes to a church that praises farakkan.

Obama was against the wall in israel before he was for it.

Obama said the DC gun ban was constitutional until the debate when he said he didn't know the specifics.

Posted by: John | May 30, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Obama said the leader of canada was the president of Canada.

Canada has been under parliamentary rule for 140 years. Canada has a prime minister.

Obama said 10,000 people died in an earthquake in kansas.

McCain was right he was talking about overall troop levels are the same as when the surge was announced.

Obama said there were 57 states.

Obama thought there was a town called sunshine florida. The name is sunrise florida.

Obama said 100 million people died in burma.

Posted by: John | May 30, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Two brigades of military out there fighting and risking there lives amounts to less than nitpicking. SHAME ON YOU MCCAIN!! You are no better than George Bush in trying to sell us continuation of a war that you have NO clue about!!! You didn't even know the difference between Shiate and Sunni. SHAME ON YOU!

Posted by: ldsrapha | May 30, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

It may not matter to McCain if he doesn't know the REALITY of how many troops we have in Iraq, but it matters to those of us who have loved ones there. THIS IS DISPICABLE that he can so callously disregard being accurate in presenting his "case" for bloodshed. To dismiss someone who KNOWS the number of troops that are fighting as nitpicking shows what a complete FOOL McCain is and what terrible judgment he has.

Posted by: Shannon | May 30, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Look, if the right wants to beat up Obama over which concentration camp his great uncle helped liberate, then McCain not knowing how many troops we have in Iraq, or whether or not Bin Laden is Sunni or Shia is more than fair game.

The thing is, McCain is telling people he is an EXPERT in Iraq. Obama never claimed to be an expert in WWII history.

Posted by: Choska | May 30, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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