With so much attention now on Afghanistan, and McCain adopting the Obama position that we need to increase our presence there, I have seen very little mention of his quote from Oct. 2005, when he told Charlie Rose that “Afghanistan, we don’t read about anymore, because it’s succeeded.” I’d love to see some reporters ask him if this sunny assessment means that he was one of the people who dropped the ball on Afghanistan because he was so focused on Iraq. (Indeed, the only reason he was discussing Afghanistan in the interview is that he was trying to argue that the Dec. 2005 elections in Iraq would make it just as much of a “success” as Afghanistan was. We all know how that turned out, when violence in Iraq increased dramatically in the spring of 2006.)
Anyway, this quote came to my attention because I saw it mentioned in a Rosa Brooks column in the LA Times, but I haven’t seen it widely publicized otherwise. I emailed Talking Points Memo in the hopes that they can give it some needed publicity. (Despite the loyalty and devotion of my ever-growing readership, I believe the folks at TPM still reach more eyeballs than I do.)
How come when Barack Obama takes a slightly different tone in describing Iraq, we get several weeks of wall-to-wall cable news coverage about how he has flip-flopped, yet when McCain goes from saying that we don’t hear about Afghanistan anymore because “it’s succeeded” to agreeing with Obama that the situation there is serious and we need to increase our troop presence, we hear barely a peep about it? I partly blame the Obama press team. While there may be pre-existing narratives that the press uses to frame these stories (McCain is a maverick straight-shooter while Obama is a slick salesman lacking the experience required to have strong convictions), I think another difference is that whenever Obama says something the slightest bit nuanced or vague, McCain’s campaign raises a huge fuss, sending all their surrogates out to hammer away at it until it becomes the dominant storyline of the day. The Obama campaign, to their credit morally but not politically, seems less eager to try to make disingenuous hay out of every little slip of McCain’s.
Can you imagine if Obama had referred to “the Iraq/Afghanistan border,” as McCain did on Good Morning America this morning? McCain’s people would be all over the cable shows crowing about how this shows that Obama doesn’t even know the basic geography of the region. Obama’s camp may be classy enough to say that McCain’s error was probably just a slip of the tongue, but after the way McCain’s campaign goes after every little slip of Obama’s, I wouldn’t blame Obama’s campaign for trying to exploit this latest embarrassing lapse of McCain’s.