FactCheck: "Dishonorable"

October 6, 2008

McCain-Palin ad distorts Obama's remark on Afghanistan and support for troop-funding bills.

Summary


A McCain-Palin ad calls Obama "dishonorable," while distorting his words and votes on troop funding.

  • It accuses him of saying "our troops in Afghanistan" are just bombing villages and killing civilians. What Obama said, in context, was a criticism of U.S. military strategy, and not of American troops.

  • It accuses Obama and "Congressional liberals" of voting repeatedly to cut off funding for troops, "increasing the risk on their lives." In fact, the votes were for bringing the troops home, cutting off funding only if the president failed to comply.


Analysis


The McCain-Palin campaign released the ad, titled "Dangerous," and said it would be televised nationally. It recycles a misleading, 14-month-old charge that Sen. Barack Obama disrespected U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan by accusing them of "just air-raiding villages and killing civilians." It also misrepresents votes in favor of withdrawing troops from Iraq as being votes "increasing the risk on their lives."

McCain-Palin 2008 Ad: "Dangerous"Ad



Narrator: Who is Barack Obama? He says our troops in Afghanistan are...

Obama: ...just air-raiding villages and killing
civilians.
Narrator: How dishonorable.

Congressional liberals voted repeatedly to cut off funding to our active troops. Increasing the risk on their lives.

How dangerous.

Obama and congressional liberals. Too risky for America.

McCain: I'm John McCain and I approved this message.
Dishonorable?

The ad asks, "Who is Barack Obama," then calls him "dishonorable" for supposedly saying that U.S. troops in Afghanistan are "just air-raiding villages and killing civilians."

Gov. Sarah Palin raised a similar charge during the October 2 vice presidential debate. The intervening weekend hasn't made the claim any more substantive. What Obama said – more than a year ago at an August 2007 campaign stop – was a criticism of administration military strategy and not a criticism of "our troops":

Obama (August 2007): We’ve got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there.

At the time, then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacked Obama for the remark. But Obama was on solid ground. As The Associated Press concluded: "As of Aug. 1 [2007], the AP count shows that while militants killed 231 civilians in attacks in 2007, Western forces killed 286. Another 20 were killed in crossfire that can't be attributed to one party."

Even President Bush admitted that there were too many civilian casualties, saying: "The president [Afghan president Hamid Karzai] rightly expressed his concerns about civilian casualty. And I assured him that we share those concerns."

But 2008 has seen little improvement. According to the New York Times, of the 1,445 civilians killed in Afghanistan so far this year, "slightly more than half" are attributed to insurgents. On September 17, Defense Secretary Robert Gates apologized for civilian casualties, explaining that "while no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder." That same day, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, told reporters that increased reliance upon air power was to blame for the rise in civilian casualties.

Was Obama "dishonorable" to say what he did? That's pretty strong language. We note that the Obama campaign routinely describes McCain's campaign as "dishonorable," for running ads like this one. We'll leave it to readers to sort out who's honorable and who's not. The way candidates loosely throw around such emotionally loaded terms, however, sometimes reminds us of Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty, who tells Alice, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less."


Risky?

The McCain ad goes on say that "congressional liberals voted repeatedly to cut off funding for our active troops." It concludes: "Obama and congressional liberals: Too risky for America."

The McCain-Palin campaign sent reporters a set of "ad facts" to back up its claims. Those "facts" list five different votes that supposedly "cut off funding for the troops in combat." Actually, they all were votes in favor of bringing the troops home and ending combat.

The votes in question (S. Amdt. 3875, S.Amdt. 3164, S.Amdt. 2924, S.Amdt. 1098 and H.R. 2237) all set a deadline for completing the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The legislation also stipulated that funding for the Iraq war would end after a specified period for withdrawal (with exceptions made for "targeted operations" aimed at al Qaeda, security for Americans remaining in Iraq, training of Iraqi Security Forces, and, in all but one version, "training, equipment, or other material to members of the United States Armed Forces to ensure, maintain, or improve their safety and security").

The ad claims that these votes would have been "increasing the risk on their lives," but in fact they were actually votes for winding down the Iraq war. Funding for active duty combat troops in Iraq would have been cut off only if the president failed to comply. It's also worth noting that Obama wasn't present for two of these votes, and one was a House vote.

The McCain campaign's "ad facts" also point to a single troop-funding bill that Obama voted against in 2007. As we've written before, Obama first voted for a version of the bill that included a timetable for withdrawal. President Bush vetoed the bill. Obama then voted against a version that did not contain withdrawal language. And for the record, McCain himself voted against the troop-funding bill when it contained withdrawal language.



by Joe Miller

Sources



Barnes, Julian E. "NATO commander in Afghanistan seeks to curb civilian deaths." 17 September 2008. Los Angeles Times. 6 October 2008.

"Bush Vetoes War-Funding Bill with Withdrawal Timetable." 2 May 2007. CNN. 6 October 2008.

Carroll, Lewis. "Through the Looking Glass" 1871.

Pickler, Nedra. "Fact Check: Obama on Afghanistan." 14 August 2007. Associated Press. 6 October 2008.

Shanker, Thom. "Gates Tries to Ease Tension in Afghan Civilian Deaths." 17 September 2008. The New York Times. 6 October 2008.

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Courtesy of FactCheck.org


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