On Tuesday, John McCain was a guest on Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room. McCain and Blitzer were discussing the war supplemental and then the following dialogue occurred:
BLITZER: Here’s what you told Bill Bennett on his radio show on Monday.
BLITZER: “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.”
BLITZER: “The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq.”
You know, everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called green zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you’re in trouble if you’re an American.
MCCAIN: You know, that’s why you ought to catch up on things, Wolf.
General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee. You want to — I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media.
But I know for a fact of much of the success we’re experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts — not all. We’ve got a long, long way to go. We’ve only got two of the five brigades there — to go into some neighborhoods in Baghdad in a secure fashion.
In the second hour of the CNN Situation Room, Blitzer asked CNN Baghdad Correspondent Michael Ware about McCain’s comments and Ware answered, shall we say, strongly:
BLITZER: CNN’s Michael Ware is standing by — Michael, you’ve been there, what, for four years. You’re walking around Baghdad on a daily basis.
Has there been this improvement that Senator McCain is speaking about?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I’d certainly like to bring Senator McCain up to speed, if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now, Wolf, that’s because of the helicopter circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing just a few blocks down the road.
Is Baghdad any safer?
Sectarian violence — one particular type of violence — is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Senator McCain’s confidence.
I mean, Senator McCain’s credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, has now been left out hanging to dry.
To suggest that there’s any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I’d love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.
And to think that General David Petraeus travels this city in an unarmed Humvee. I mean in the hour since Senator McCain has said this, I’ve spoken to some military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly, the general travels in a Humvee. There’s multiple Humvees around it, heavily armed. There’s attack helicopters, predator drones, sniper teams, all sorts of layers of protection.
So, no, Senator McCain is way off base on this one — Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael, stand by.
But I want to go back to Baghdad right now. CNN’s Michael Ware is on the scene for us, as he has been for the past four years.
Michael, when Senator McCain says that there are at least some areas of Baghdad where people can walk around and — whether it’s General Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, or others, are there at least some areas where you could emerge outside of the Green Zone, the international zone, where people can go out, go to a coffee shop, go to a restaurant, and simply take a stroll?
WARE: I can answer this very quickly, Wolf. No. No way on earth can a westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than five million people.
I mean, if al Qaeda doesn’t get wind of you, or if one of the Sunni insurgent groups don’t descend upon you, or if someone doesn’t tip off a Shia militia, then the nearest criminal gang is just going to see dollar signs and scoop you up. Honestly, Wolf, you’d barely last 20 minutes out there.
I don’t know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad.
BLITZER: What about this vote? The tug-of-war, the political battle unfolding here in the Senate. The House of Representatives calling for some sort of timeline for a withdrawal of combat forces.
How does this play out in Baghdad? What do people there where you are, Michael, say about this?
WARE: Well, on the ground, it barely passes without a flicker. Of course, people take notes of the domestic politics back in D.C., in the United States. But honestly, that seems so far removed from the reality here on the ground.
People are still dying in the dozens every single day. There may be a security crackdown, but al Qaeda’s suicide car bombers are still getting through. And we’re finding 20, 30 tortured, executed bodies on the streets of the capital every morning, and American troops continue to die every day.
And just this afternoon, we’ve seen a double suicide truck bomb attack, followed by ground infantry assault by al Qaeda launched against an American position. Now, that was repelled, but eight American boys were wounded in the process.
Do you think anyone enduring that is paying attention to artificial deadlines that are going to get vetoed by the president? And even if they were to pass through the legislative process, would only serve al Qaeda and Iran, America’s enemies? No. People are focusing on the near game — Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.
Bill Bennett’s Morning in America producer Seth Leibsohn notes:
So some research is required, in the best tradition of getting at the truth, using radio, cable news, and the blogosphere: any of our military readers on the ground in Iraq care to chime in? Who is right? McCain, Ware? Or is it somewhere in between.
Seth suggests that we “bleg” our readers in uniform on the ground who, “we have a feeling, might just be able to give the most credible report of all.” Please let us hear from you.
PAUL adds: Note Ware’s statement that “sectarian violence — one type of sectarian violence — is down.” The statistics show that Iraqi deaths in Baghdad are down substantially. So I guess the type of sectarian violence that’s down is the kind that kills people. And wasn’t that, after all, the primary purpose of the surge?
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