The Times Gets It Wrong (Again)

In today’s New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter report on a tug of war among John McCain’s foreign policy advisers, some of whom are “realists,” while others are “neocons.” You can imagine the Times’s perspective on that conflict.
This is what I want to focus on, however: in the course of this narrative, the Times claims that McCain has recently been subject to blunders on the stump:

In a trip to the Middle East last month, Mr. McCain made an embarrassing mistake when he said several times that he was concerned that Iran was training Al Qaeda in Iraq. [Ed.: I don’t believe this is true.] (The United States believes that Iran, a Shiite country, has been training Shiite extremists in Iraq, but not Al Qaeda, a Sunni insurgent group.) He repeated the mistake on Tuesday at hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This last statement, in addition to being ungrammatical, is simply false. In Tuesday’s hearing, McCain said nothing about Iran supposedly training al Qaeda. The Times just made it up. To eliminate any doubt, here is every word McCain spoke during the hearing, taken from the transcript. First, his opening statement:

MCCAIN: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. And welcome back to our two distinguished witnesses.
We’ve come a long way since early 2007, and quite a distance even since General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker appeared before our committee last September.
We owe these two patriotic Americans a debt of gratitude for their selfless service to our country.
At the beginning of last year, we were engaged in a great debate about what to do in Iraq. Four years of mismanaged war had brought us almost to the point of no return. Sectarian violence in Iraq was spiraling out of control, life had become a struggle for survival, and a full-scale civil war seemed almost unavoidable. Al Qaida in Iraq was on the offensive and entire Iraqi provinces were under the control of extremists.
And yet, rather than retreat from Iraq and face thereby the terrible consequences that would ensue, we chose to change strategies and try to turn things around.
Instead of abandoning Iraq to civil war, genocide and terror, and the Middle East to the destabilizing effects of these consequences, we changed the strategy and sent additional troops to carry it out. And by the time our two witnesses testified in September, it had become clear that these new efforts were succeeding. Since the middle of last year, sectarian and ethnic violence, civilian deaths and deaths of coalition forces have all fallen dramatically. This improved security environment has led to a new opportunity, one in which average Iraqis can in the future approach a more normal political and economic life.
Reconciliation has moved forward. And over the weekend, Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders, backed by the prime minister — backed the prime minister in a statement supporting his operation in Basra and urging the disbandment of all militias.
MCCAIN: Much, much more needs to be done. And Iraq’s leaders need to know that we expect them to show the necessary leadership to rebuild their country, for only they can.
But today it is possible to talk with real hope and optimism about the future of Iraq and the outcome of our efforts there. For while the job of bringing security to Iraq is not finished, as the recent fighting in Basra and elsewhere vividly demonstrated, we’re no longer staring into the abyss of defeat and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success.
Success, the establishment of a peaceful, stable, prosperous democratic state that poses no threats to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists — this success is within reach.
And with success, Iraqi forces can take responsibility for enforcing security in their country’s (sic) and American troops can return home with the honor of having secured their country’s interest at great personal cost and of helping another people achieve peace and self-determination.
That’s what I hope every American desires for our country and our mission in Iraq.
Yet should the United States instead choose to withdraw from Iraq before adequate security is established, we will exchange for this victory a defeat that is terrible and long-lasting. Al Qaida in Iraq would proclaim victory and increase its efforts to provoke sectarian tensions, pushing for a full-scale civil war that could descend into genocide and destabilize the Middle East.
Iraq would become a failed state. It could become a haven for terrorists to train and plan their operations. Iranian influence would increase substantially in Iraq and encourage other countries to seek accommodation with Tehran at the expense of our interest.
An American failure would almost certainly require us to return to Iraq or draw us into a wider and far, far costlier war. If, on the other hand, we and the Iraqis are able to build on the opportunity provided by recent successes, we have the chance to leave in Iraq a force for stability and freedom, not conflict and chaos.
MCCAIN: In doing so, we will ensure…
LEVIN: Do you want to hold up?
We’re going to ask you please to sit down, no more demonstrations, or if there is another one, we’re going to have to ask our Capital Police to remove any demonstrations.
MCCAIN: I have had this experience previously, Mr. Chairman. (LAUGHTER)
If, on the other hand, when the Iraqis are able to build on the opportunity provided by recent successes, we have the chance to leave in Iraq a force for stability and freedom, not conflict and chaos.
In doing so, we will ensure that the terrible price we have paid in the war, a price that has made all of us sick at heart, has not been paid in vain. Our troops can leave behind a successful mission, and our nation can leave behind a country that contributes to the security of America and the world.
To do this, we must continue to help the Iraqis protect themselves against the terrorists and the insurgents. We must press ahead against Al Qaida, the radical Shiite militias — Shia militias and the Iranian-backed special groups.
We must continue to support the Sunni volunteers, the Iraqi Awakening, as they stand up to Al Qaida in Iraq. And we must continue to build the capacity of the Iraqi security forces so they can play an ever-stronger and more neutral role in suppressing violence.
This means rejecting, as we did in 2007, the calls for a reckless and irresponsible withdraw of our forces at the moment when they are succeeding.
I do not want to keep our troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary to secure our interests there.
MCCAIN: Our goal — my goal — is an Iraq that no longer needs American troops, and I believe we can achieve that goal perhaps sooner than many imagine. But I also believe that the promise of withdrawal of our forces regardless of the consequences would constitute a failure of political and moral leadership.
Achieving our goals in Iraq will require much more than a military effort. The Arab neighbors should increase their investment and engagement including an overdue dispatch of ambassadors to Baghdad. We should encourage greater United Nations involvement, building on the work its representatives have done on the Kirkuk issue.
The Iraqis must continue the reconciliation that has helped dampen violence over recent months, and they need to move a portion of their growing budget surpluses into job creation programs, move toward an end to their reliance on outside sources of aid, and look for other ways to take on more of the financial burdens currently borne by American taxpayers.
This is especially important as the government of Iraq continues to take in revenues it finds difficult to disburse through its own government channels. One way they might begin to do this is by contributing significantly to the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, CERP, which pays for employment and reconstruction projects throughout the country. This is a start. Other programs of this type can and should be funded by the Iraqis themselves.
By giving our men and women in uniform the time and support necessary to succeed in Iraq, we have before us a hard road. It is a privilege beyond measure to live in a country served so well by these individuals. The sacrifices made by these patriots and their families are incredibly great.
Yet the alternative path is, in the end, the far costlier one. As we convene this hearing and as we continue to debate our future in Iraq, Americans continue to risk everything — everything — to accomplish their mission on our behalf. With the untold costs of their failure, and the benefits offered by success, the Congress must not choose to lose in Iraq. We should choose instead to succeed.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Not a word about Iran training al Qaeda. Next, here are the questions McCain asked of Petraeus and Crocker. To save space, I’ve left out their answers:

MCCAIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MCCAIN: General Petraeus, again, a news report said that Prime Minister Maliki only informed you shortly before the operation. Is that correct in Basra?
MCCAIN: And it was not…
MCCAIN: And it was not something that you had recommended.
MCCAIN: News reports indicate that over 1,000 Iraqi army and police deserted or under-performed during that operation. This is four months after Basra achieved provincial Iraqi control meaning that all provincial security had been transferred to Iraqi security forces. What’s the lesson that we are to draw from that, that a thousand Iraqi police deserted or under-performed?
MCCAIN: Suffice to say it was a disappointment.
MCCAIN: The green zone has been attacked in ways that it has not been for a long time. And most of that is coming from elements out — that leave Sadr City or from Sadr City. Is that correct?
MCCAIN: And what are we going to do about that?
MCCAIN: What do you make of Sadr’s declaration of a, quote, “cease-fire”?
MCCAIN: There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq. Do you still view Al Qaida in Iraq as a major threat?
MCCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shiites overall…
MCCAIN: … or Sunnis or anybody else. Al Qaida continues to try to assert themselves in Mosul, is that correct?
MCCAIN: They continue to be a significant threat?
MCCAIN: Ambassador Crocker, let’s — in your statement, you talked about a long-term relationship with Iraq such as a security arrangement, diplomatic, et cetera, economic, that we have with some 80 countries. You envision this after we succeed in this conflict. Is that correct? Or would you talk a little bit about that, elaborate a little more?
MCCAIN: Thank you.
Finally, General Petraeus, Mosul continues to be a battle. Is that correct?
MCCAIN: And who are the major adversaries in Mosul? It’s a mixed population…
MCCAIN: It’s once said that Al Qaida cannot succeed without control of Baghdad and they can’t survive without control of Mosul. Is that an oversimplification?
MCCAIN: Finally, I hope (inaudible) response, because my time has expired, we could talk a little bit more about the Iranian threat, particularly their stepped-up support of various elements that are Shiite extremists in Iraq, particularly the role they’ve played in Basra as well as the southern part of the country.
I used up my time. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Once again, nothing about Iran training al Qaeda. The Times just made it up. In so accusing McCain, falsely, the Times said that he made an “embarrassing mistake” which he then “repeated” on Tuesday. We would suggest that the Times’s error is an “embarrassing mistake” and that the New York Times, far more than John McCain, is a repeat offender.


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