The Corner

Jay Carney v. John McCain: Much More Exciting than the President’s Actual Speech

Former Obama press secretary Jay Carney’s start as a CNN pundit got a little rougher than expected this evening — he tried to tangle with John McCain about Middle East policy.

After Carney had offered a favorable take on his former boss’s speech, Senator McCain took issue with Carney’s claim that the moderate Syrian opposition, which the president tonight proposed to arm, is stronger and more easily identifiable than it had been over the past couple years, during which time McCain had called for arming moderate rebel groups but President Obama had refused.

No serious expert on the matter thinks the moderate rebels are stronger now than they were earlier in the war, McCain pointed out. Carney argued he wasn’t saying the moderates had grown stronger, just that the U.S. now can better identify them, but McCain pointed out that President Obama’s “entire national-security team” supported arming the rebels a long time ago, before they were supposedly so easily identified. “Facts are stubborn things,” McCain said.

The two then moved onto Iraq, with McCain arguing that President Obama’s complete withdrawal of troops had created the conditions for the Islamic State to become a threat. Carney contended that the U.S., under the Obama administration, had withdrawn because the Iraqi government wouldn’t allow them to say, but McCain brushed him back: “Mr. Carney, you are again saying facts that are patently false. Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman, and I were in Baghdad [during the status-of-forces negotiations] — they wanted a residual force. . . . the Iraqis were read to go.” Soon after, Carney admitted that the president did prefer to pull all U.S. troops out.

The debate continued; this image may serve as a good summary:

The segment exploded on social media — 4.4 percent of tweets sent during the 9 p.m. hour, Patrick Ruffini of Echelon Insights said, were about the argument — and the verdict didn’t seem to come down in the former White House flack’s favor:

https://twitter.com/JeffreyGoldberg/status/509880708861820928

It was such a hit for CNN they forced Carney through a debriefing:

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