Ignoring McCain's “greeted as liberators” assurance, Wash. Post editorial credited him with prewar “foresight”

A Washington Post editorial praised Sen. John McCain's “foresight and consistency about how the [Iraq] war should have been waged”; however, in the days immediately before and after the invasion, McCain echoed Bush administration statements that U.S. forces would be greeted as “liberators.” Since then, McCain has made apparently contradictory statements on the administration's management of the Iraq war.

An April 29 Washington Post editorial titled “Reality Show” praised Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for his “foresight and consistency about how the [Iraq] war should have been waged.” The editorial singled out his statements during his April 25 speech officially announcing his presidential candidacy that the Iraq war “has not gone well” and that the United States “did not meet [its] responsibility initially” to plan and conduct the war properly, asserting that McCain “has been making these points since before the invasion.” In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, in the days immediately preceding and following the invasion McCain affirmed Bush administration statements that U.S. forces would be greeted as “liberators.”

Moreover, while McCain has criticized the planning for and conduct of the war, at other times, he issued rosy predictions about the war and praised the Bush administration's conduct of the war.

From the Post editorial, subtitled “Sen. McCain injects some useful truths into the presidential campaign”:

He [McCain] did not shrink from the [Iraq war] issue in his announcement, admitting the war “has not gone well” and referring to it in appropriately cautionary terms. “America should never undertake a war unless we are prepared to do everything necessary to succeed, unless we have a realistic and comprehensive plan for success, and unless all relevant agencies of government are committed to that success,” he said. “We did not meet this responsibility initially. And we must never repeat that mistake again.”

Mr. McCain did not say so, but he has been making these points since well before the invasion. Whatever your position on the war, then or now, Mr. McCain deserves credit for foresight and consistency about how the war should have been waged. And he was, properly, unflinching about the terrorist challenge facing the country he hopes to lead: “a global struggle with violent extremists who despise us, our values and modernity itself.”

Notwithstanding the Post's assertion that McCain “has been making these points since before the invasion,” before the war, McCain echoed Vice President Dick Cheney's well-known prewar prediction about the success of the mission in Iraq:

  • On the March 12, 2003, edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews asked McCain: “Do you believe that the people of Iraq or at least a large number of them will treat us as liberators?” McCain answered: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

Immediately after the invasion, McCain again echoed Cheney's optimism:

  • On the March 24, 2003, edition of Hardball -- several days after the U.S.-led coalition had invaded Iraq -- McCain said: "[T]here's no doubt in my mind that we will prevail and there's no doubt in my mind, once these people are gone, that we will be welcomed as liberators."

Similarly, the Post's editorial page also adopted the “liberators” language in the aftermath of the invasion, writing on March 23, 2003:

For all the initial success, the bitter political and diplomatic divides the war has opened show no sign of closing. There have been angry and occasionally violent demonstrations against the war across the Middle East, in the United States and in many other parts of the world. Hostile media have seized on the footage of Baghdad to claim falsely that Iraq is being devastated. Relations between Turkey and the United States teeter at the brink of crisis over the potential entry of Turkish troops into northern Iraq. France and Russia meanwhile persist in their efforts to build an anti-American bloc in and outside the United Nations. French President Jacques Chirac threatens to obstruct a U.N. resolution on a postwar regime unless France is allowed to dictate terms to those who now do the fighting. The obstructionist diplomats, and many of the antiwar demonstrators, closed their eyes to the threat of Saddam Hussein and the terror of his regime. They ought now look at Iraqis who are greeting the Marines as liberators.

Moreover, contrary to the Post's claim that McCain “deserves credit for foresight and consistency,” he has been far from consistent in his statements regarding the Bush administration's prosecution of the war and the candor with which the administration has presented the situation in Iraq to the American public. Indeed, his own optimistic predictions in March 2003 did not prevent McCain from subsequently criticizing the Bush administration for its excessively optimistic predictions and assessments about the situation in Iraq. During an August 22, 2006, appearance at a campaign event for Republican Mike DeWine, who lost his Ohio Senate seat to Democrat Sherrod Brown, McCain specifically criticized Bush administration statements about the war: "stuff happens," "Mission Accomplished," "last throes," and "pockets of dead-enders," saying those comments “grieve[d]” him.

However, as Media Matters noted, three days after criticizing these comments, McCain issued a press release backing away from this criticism, praising Bush for his “honest” public statements regarding the war.

McCain's inconsistency on “Mission Accomplished” is nothing new. After Bush appeared before the “Mission Accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln, McCain initially claimed the phrase was accurate. On the June 11, 2003, edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, while discussing the timing of a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing to hear testimony from Gen. Tommy Franks, McCain said that while “reconstruction of Iraq would be a long, long, difficult process,” “the major conflict is over, the regime change has been accomplished.”

NEIL CAVUTO (host): Senator -- after a conflict means after the conflict, and many argue the conflict isn't over.

McCAIN: Well, then why was there a banner that said mission accomplished on the aircraft carrier?

Look, the -- I have said a long time that reconstruction of Iraq would be a long, long, difficult process, but the conflict -- the major conflict is over, the regime change has been accomplished, and it's very appropriate. In two weeks, General Franks is going to come before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and we're going to have his overall assessment of the conflict. I think that's entirely appropriate because we'll be -- we'll be taking up the needs of the Defense Department and the men and women in the military on the Armed Services Committee.

But I'm looking for an overall review of the conflict, what we did right, what we did wrong, and what the needs are, including the issue of weapons of mass destruction. I remain confident that we will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Additionally, in an interview with Salon.com published on June 13, 2003, on the same topic McCain stated: “Now, I think it's entirely appropriate now that regime change has been orchestrated -- and though the danger is certainly not over, the mission is 'accomplished' -- it's appropriate to have a hearing.” However, on June 24, 2003, during an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, McCain appeared to criticize “Mission Accomplished,” saying: "[I]f you keep losing American lives after 'mission accomplished' it can present difficulties. But if the American people are spoken to, if I might say a little straight talk, I think they will not only understand but be prepared to bear the burden."

As Media Matters also noted, on April 1, 2007, McCain responded to a question from a reporter about his statement that he "could walk through" neighborhoods in Baghdad today by stating: “Yeah, I just came from one.” McCain was apparently referring to his trip to Baghdad's Shorja market, during which he and other members of his delegation were accompanied by more than 100 troops as well as several helicopters. On the April 8 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, McCain admitted that he had “miss[poken]” when he declared the market safe.

McCain has also repeatedly praised the Bush administration's management of the conflict. For instance, while campaigning for Bush's re-election in 2004, McCain often touted the administration's wartime performance:

  • 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 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]
  • 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 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 also expressed support for Bush's management in the war in 2006:

  • 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 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.”