Ignoring inconsistencies, L.A. Times quoted McCain suggesting he is a consistent critic of Bush on Iraq

The Los Angeles Times reported Sen. John McCain's assertion that his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq “started three years ago” when, he said, he saw “that this train wreck was taking place.” But while McCain has often assailed the White House's execution of the war, he has also stated that the United States is on “the right course” in Iraq, said that President Bush “has a good team around him” on national security issues, and expressed his confidence in Bush's ability to “lead the war.”

In a February 22 article, the Los Angeles Times reported Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) assertion that his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war “started three years ago” when, in McCain's words, he saw “that this train wreck was taking place.” In fact, during the past three years, McCain has not been consistently critical of the administration's handling of the Iraq war. Indeed, as Media Matters for America documented, while McCain has often assailed the White House's execution of the war, he has also asserted that the United States is on “the right course” in Iraq, said that President Bush “has a good team around him” on national security issues, and as recently as August 2006, expressed his confidence in Bush's ability to “lead the war.”

In the February 22 article -- headlined “McCain slams Bush on global warming, Iraq policy” -- Times staff writer Michael Finnegan noted that McCain's criticism of the White House during a February 21 event with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) contrasted with his “vocal support for Bush's recent troop buildup in Iraq” :

Republican presidential candidate John McCain was anything but subtle Wednesday as he took swipes at the Bush administration during a meticulously staged appearance with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the bustling docks of Los Angeles Harbor.

President Bush's record on global warming? “Terrible,” McCain declared. His pursuit of the Iraq war? “A train wreck.”

If the point of the Arizona senator's visit was to put distance between himself and his party's unpopular president, McCain was following a pattern set by Schwarzenegger in his reelection campaign. For McCain, the task is especially important because his vocal support for Bush's recent troop buildup in Iraq threatens a voter backlash.

The Times then reported McCain's suggestion that his recent criticism was in concert with his comments on the war over the past three years:

Asked about the scathing remarks he has made on the administration's conduct of the war, McCain said his criticism started three years ago “when I saw that this train wreck was taking place, and that we needed more troops, and we needed a different strategy.”

As the campaign has heated up in recent weeks, McCain has repeatedly criticized the administration.

But while McCain has certainly made statements criticizing the White House's management of the war since 2004, he has also repeatedly touted the wartime performance of the Bush administration during this period, as Media Matters has documented. Following are examples of McCain doing so while campaigning for Bush's re-election in 2004:

  • McCain expressed confidence that “we're on the right course” in Iraq. On the March 7, 2004, edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked McCain: “Are you confident we're on the right course in Iraq?” McCain answered: “I'm confident we're on the right course. ... I am confident that an imperfect democracy is what we'll get out of Iraq will be vastly superior to what the people of Iraq had prior to this.”
  • McCain complimented Cheney's “hard-headed clear-thinking” and guidance on Iraq. At a July 16, 2004, campaign rally in Lansing, Michigan, McCain appeared with Vice President Dick Cheney, whom he described as “deputy commander-in-chief.” McCain went on to say that Bush was able to “count on the experience and wisdom” of Cheney in making the decision to invade Iraq. McCain continued: “We are very fortunate that our president in these challenging days can rely on the counsel of a man who has demonstrated time and again the resolve, experience, and patriotism that will be required for success and the hard-headed clear-thinking necessary to prevail in this global fight between good and evil.”
  • McCain said Bush “has a good team around him” on national security issues. While campaigning for Bush in New Hampshire, McCain said: “I believe that he's strengthened our military. ... I think he strengthened our national defenses. I think he has a good team around him.” [Manchester Union-Leader, 9/3/04]

In 2006, McCain offered additional expressions of support for Bush's handling of Iraq:

  • McCain said Iraq is “on the right track” and claimed to be focused “on the bright side of this.” On the March 1, 2006, edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, host Don Imus commented that Iraq “already looks like a civil war.” McCain responded: “I keep trying to look at the bright side of this, because we have to -- because the consequences of failure are catastrophic. But the gathering of the seven most respected religious leaders the day before yesterday calling for calm and calling for some kind of reconciliation, I think, was important. I think, at least we're on the right track here.”
  • McCain voiced confidence in Bush's ability to lead war in Iraq. On the August 20, 2006, edition of NBC's Meet the Press, guest host and NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory asked McCain if he had confidence in Bush and his administration to “lead the war” in Iraq. McCain replied: “I do. I do. I have confidence in the president and I believe that he is well aware of the severity of the situation.”

McCain's statements regarding Bush's rhetoric on the war have also been inconsistent. For instance, in January, McCain publicly criticized the White House for presenting “rosy scenarios” about the situation in Iraq, which he said “exacerbated” public “disillusionment” with the war. These comments echoed McCain's complaint at an August 22, 2006, Republican fundraiser in Ohio that the Bush administration has “not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be.” But as Media Matters noted, in recent years, McCain himself has praised Bush's candor on the war:

  • McCain said that Bush is “presenting a clear picture” of the benefits and consequences of U.S. policy in Iraq. On the September 21, 2004, edition of MSNBC's Hardball, McCain said: “Have mistakes been made? Yes. But the necessity of winning, I believe, is overwhelming. And I think that President Bush is presenting a clear picture of the benefits of success and the consequences of failure.”
  • McCain commended Bush's “honest assessment of the progress we have made in Iraq.” From a statement released by McCain's office on August 25, 2006, three days after his comments at the Ohio fundraiser: “I commend the President for his public statements offering Americans an honest assessment of the progress we have made in Iraq and the challenges that still confront us there, and, of course, for his determination to defend American security and international peace and stability by succeeding in this arduous and costly enterprise.”