There are gaffes, and then there are Gaffes. And yesterday, John McCain made a Gaffe. Speaking with Katie Couric about Iraq on the CBS Evening News, McCain questioned the way Obama credited the Iraqis for some of the positive outcomes of the surge:
Katie Couric: Senator McCain, Senator Obama says, while the increased number of US troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias. And says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What’s your response to that?
McCain: I don’t know how you respond to something that is as—such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history.
Except—Gaffe!—no, that’s not a matter of history. In fact, the Anbar Awakening predated the U.S. troop surge. The surge began in February 2007; the Awakening began in the summer of 2006. That’s just a matter of history.
The Awakening began in Anbar Province more than a year before the surge and took off in the summer and fall of 2006 in Ramadi and elsewhere, long before extra U.S. forces started flowing into Iraq in February and March of 2007. Throughout the war, enemy-of-my-enemy logic has driven Sunni decision-making. The Sunnis have seen three “occupiers” as threats: the United States, the Shiites (and their presumed Iranian patrons), and the foreigners and extremists in AQI. Crucial to the Awakening was the reordering of these threats.
And here’s The New York Times, writing about the Anbar Awakening on March 3, 2007 (emphasis ours):
Sheik Abdul Sattar and the Anbar Salvation Council, the group of 25 tribes that the sheik said he had helped pull together to fight Al Qaeda, would be central to any such move by the Americans.
The sheik said he and his allies, who also call themselves the Anbar Awakening, had recruited 6,000 fighters from the tribes into the Anbar police, helped appoint a new provincial police chief and formed a 2,500-member “emergency brigade” answering to him.
A United States Army civil affairs officer in Ramadi, Capt. Travis L. Patriquin, said in an e-mail message shortly before he was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi in December that the tribal fighters in the Iraqi police constituted “the first successful, large force of men we’ve had since the start of the war.”
And here’s another Times piece about the Awakening, also published March 3, 2007 (emphasis, again, ours):
The formation of the group in September shocked many Sunni Arabs. It was the most public stand anyone in Anbar had taken against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which was founded by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
And here’s Kevin Drum, writing about the Awakening in The Washington Monthly in August 2007:
The Anbar Awakening is genuinely good news, but (a) it had nothing to do with the surge, (b) it’s happening only in homogeneous Sunni areas, and (c) it involves arming and training Sunni forces who are almost certain to turn against both us and the Shiite central government as soon as they’ve finished off AQI. Pretending otherwise is simply fraudulent.
Anyway. You get the idea. Anbar Awakening™, Iraqi owned and operated since September 2006; Surge™, American owned and operated since February 2007. McCain had the events’ timing—and thus his post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc reasoning about their relationship—backwards.
It was the proto-blogger Spencer Ackerman who, yesterday evening, first identified McCain’s error. The Colonel MacFarland to whom McCain referred in the Couric interview “is now a one-star general, and his name is Sean MacFarland,” Ackerman writes. “He was commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, based in Ramadi in 2006 and early 2007 and is a key figure in embracing the Anbar Awakening before it even had that name.”