McCain’s Awakening

The latest McCain flub to percolate across the blogs is a statement—made to CBS but not aired—that suggests the surge caused the Anbar Awakening. From the transcript :

Katie Couric: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says, while the increased number of US troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What’s your response to that?

McCain: I don’t know how you respond to something that is as—such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history. [emphasis added]

Spencer Ackerman and HuffPo have dug up a quotes from MacFarland and McCain himself to show that it’s the other way around—the “awakening,” in which tribal leaders in Anbar province agreed to join forces against al-Qaida, preceded the surge. Here’s one more , from President Bush’s Jan. 10, 2007, address to the nation, in which he announced the surge:

Our military forces in Anbar are killing and capturing al Qaeda leaders, and they are protecting the local population. Recently, local tribal leaders have begun to show their willingness to take on al Qaeda. And as a result, our commanders believe we have an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists. So I have given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops. These troops will work with Iraqi and tribal forces to keep up the pressure on the terrorists. America’s men and women in uniform took away al Qaeda’s safe haven in Afghanistan – and we will not allow them to re-establish it in Iraq. [emphasis added]

Indeed, the awakening was a justification for the surge, not a result of it. That’s not to say the surge didn’t facilitate the awakening’s long-term success. But as far as causation, McCain is just wrong. It wouldn’t be a huge deal if Iraq weren’t his supposed strong suit. His cocky delivery—did he really have to call it a “matter of history”?—makes it all the more absurd.

A statement from McCain’s campaign to the AP addresses the awakening’s post-surge success, but not the timeline problem: “Democrats can debate whether the awakening would have survived without the surge … but that is nothing more than a transparent effort to minimize the role of our commanders and our troops in defeating the enemy, because to credit them would be to disparage the judgment of Barack Obama and praise the leadership of John McCain.”

All this in the week when Obama was supposed to be the vulnerable one .