Sen. Jon Kyl and McCain senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann held a conference call to talk about Iraq and a comment that John McCain made yesterday that “We have drawn down to pre-surge levels.” (The Obama camp pounced, declaring that the pre-surge troops won’t be fully withdrawn until July.)
Sen. Kyl began by saying that “Al Qaeda has been significantly, significantly degraded in Iraq and other places.” He continued “The point is the surge recommended by Sen. McCain has worked.” Scheunemann was more harsh, declaring that Obama is “so wedded to a narrative of failure” that he refuses to get additional facts and that he simply “refuses to recognize any progress.” He declared that Obama was “demonstrably wrong” on the judgment that the surge would not reduce sectarian violence.
I asked whether McCain considered Obama unfit to be commander-in-chief. Scheunemann excoriated Obama for refusing to take the time to visit Iraq and or even meet with General Petraeus. He said, “Sen. Obama lacks the judgment, experience and knowledge” to be commander-in-chief. Most of the rest of the call was taken up by mainstream reporters wrangling with the advisors, accusing McCain of a gaffe and arguing that this revealed that he was uninformed about a key fact. The advisors reiterated again and again that the essence of McCain’s comment is correct: we are drawing down and we have already decided to reduce below surge levels. The bulk of the reporters seemed positively fixated on what the McCain camp termed a “verb tense” and the prospect of catching McCain in an error.
On an unrelated note, I asked whether McCain had problems with the progress of the Six Party talks and was disappointed in the Bush administration’s decision to abandon verification of North Korea’s nuke program. Without responding directly, the advisors noted that McCain has favored talks with our allies and an agreement that is “complete, irreversible, and verifiable.”