Yesterday at a townhall meeting in Wisconsin, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) claimed that troops in Iraq are already down to “pre-surge levels”:
So I can tell you that it is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it’s succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr city are quiet and it’s long and it’s hard and it’s tough and there will be setbacks.
But today on a conference call with reporters, the McCain campaign tried to dismiss this factually inaccurate statement. “So what?” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), a strong McCain supporter. “What does that amount to?” He added that McCain just “misspoke.” According to adviser Randy Scheunemann, McCain meant to say that troops will be eventually drawn down to pre-surge levels. From his response to the AP’s Liz Sidoti:
SIDOTI: Randy, I’m a little confused here. If the question is over the tense of the statement, why is he not wrong?
RANDY: If the question is, are we drawing down to pre-surge levels? The answer is, yes. If the question is, have we drawn down? The answer is, yes. Liz, I don’t know how to make it any clearer than that. [...]
SIDOTI: He said, “We have drawn down to pre-surge levels.” And what you’re saying is, we will have drawn down to pre-surge levels by June — or, I’m sorry, by July. He was speaking in the present tense: “We have drawn down to pre-surge levels.”
RANDY: And if we want to talk about verb tenses, we can talk about verb tenses. Everybody knows — it’s been publicly announced since before April — Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker testified about it extensively. It is very well-known where we are in the surge force levels and that we are drawing down to pre-surge levels. That has not been fully completed yet, but will be completed within no more than 60 days.
Listen to the full call here:
“Verb tenses” aside, this claim still seems to be wrong and may be a problem for McCain, who likes to tout his expertise on Iraq. Michael Shear of the Washington Post points to testimony by Joint Staff director for operations Lt. Gen. Carter Ham at the end of February, where he said that the Bush administration’s goal is to reduce troop levels to only 140,000:
Q: General, coming back to Iraq and the troop numbers, so what you’re saying is by the time we get to the end of July, we’re going to be at 140,000, which looks to me like we’re still talking about significantly higher than pre-surge levels in Iraq. Am I reading that correctly?
GEN. HAM: Yes.
The Politico’s Ben Smith has more from the call, including the campaign’s cries of “nitpicking.”
UPDATE: In a press conference shortly after the call, a reporter asked McCain, “Did you misspeak yesterday?” McCain replied, “Of course not.” Watch it: