About a year ago, it became painfully obvious that the president started lying about al Qaeda in Iraq as part of a cynical approach to bolstering support for the war. While that was hardly unexpected, the more noticeable problem was that the media started playing along with the White House’s scheme, and began characterizing everyone who commits an act of violence in Iraq as an al Qaeda terrorist.
The New York Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, eventually tackled the subject head on in a terrific column; the paper took steps to make amends; and news outlets have generally been more responsible about not equating all Iraqi violence with AQI.
Now, if only John McCain had been paying attention at the time.
As he campaigns with the weight of a deeply unpopular war on his shoulders, Senator John McCain of Arizona frequently uses the shorthand “Al Qaeda” to describe the enemy in Iraq in pressing to stay the course in the war there.
“Al Qaeda is on the run, but they’re not defeated” is his standard line on how things are going in Iraq. When chiding the Democrats for wanting to withdraw troops, he has been known to warn that “Al Qaeda will then have won.” In an attack this winter on Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the Democratic front-runner, Mr. McCain went further, warning that if American forces withdrew, Al Qaeda would be “taking a country.”
Critics say that in framing the war that way at rallies or in sound bites, Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is oversimplifying the hydra-headed nature of the insurgency in Iraq in a way that exploits the emotions that have been aroused by the name “Al Qaeda” since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Well, yes, critics do say that, but only because it’s true.