This week’s winner: Joe Klein of Time for calling John McCain’s statement yesterday about Senator Obama willing to lose a war to win an election “the most scurrilous thing that I have heard a presidential candidate say in the nine elections I have covered.” Here’s the exchange from Anderson Cooper last night:
KLEIN: It wasn’t the surplus of troops. It was the fact that Petraeus really knew how to leverage this and move it into other parts of the country.
But, if you want to be absolutely precise about this, the Sunni awakening — and David Petraeus is absolutely precise about it — the Sunni awakening began earlier.
Now, to go to David’s points, I think that these sort of gaffes aren’t very serious. You know, the Iraq-Afghanistan — Afghani border, everybody makes mistakes like that. Or at least people my age do. And Barack Obama has done it on the trail. What is far more serious is the way that McCain continues to characterize this war, in these stark terms. A year ago, he was saying that, if we left, al Qaeda would take over the entire country. Al Qaeda is a tiny Sunni sliver in a big Shiite country. That was never going to happen.
McCain has been overstating his case throughout, in part for effect. I suppose the question is, does he really believe this? But what he said today — and David Gergen is absolutely right about this — what he said about Barack Obama being willing to lose a war to win an election is the most scurrilous thing that I have heard a presidential candidate say in the nine elections I have covered.
Scurrilous things have been said before, but they’re usually said by aides, and the fact — or by spokespeople. And the fact that John McCain would choose to do this by himself is a very significant moment in this campaign.