A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Context Included: Obama on Iran

McCain ad cherry-picks Obama remarks on Iran, twisting his meaning.


Summary

McCain’s new ad, released on Day 3 of the Democratic National Convention, quotes Obama saying that Iran is a "tiny" country that "doesn’t pose a serious threat." It implies that he fails to see Iran’s threat to Israel.

The picture changes dramatically when Obama’s full quotes are considered:

  • Obama actually said of Iran, Cuba and Venezuela: "These countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union" (emphasis ours).
  • Likewise, he said those countries don’t pose a serious threat to the United States "the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us."
  • Obama has also said in speeches that Iran is Israel’s greatest threat, and a serious threat to the region, and he has discussed its sponsorship of terrorism.

Analysis

John McCain’s ad, "Tiny," was sent to reporters on the third day of the Democratic convention. The McCain campaign describes it as a "television ad" that "will air in key states." We’ll add this caveat: Some recent ads – at least one from each campaign – have received far more play on YouTube and television news shows than they have as paid advertisements. That’s a strategy that can save the campaigns boatloads of cash.

[TET ]

John McCain 2008 TV Ad: "Tiny"

 

Announcer: Iran. Radical Islamic government. Known sponsors of terrorism.

Developing nuclear capabilities to "generate power" but threatening to eliminate Israel.

Obama says Iran is a "tiny" country, "doesn’t pose a serious threat".

Terrorism, destroying Israel, those aren’t "serious threats"?

Obama – dangerously unprepared to be president.

McCain: I’m John McCain and I approved this message. [/TET]

Missing Words

The ad paints a dark picture of Iran as a sponsor of terrorism that is developing nuclear capabilities and wants to eliminate Israel. That’s all fair enough, factually speaking.

 

Where it goes way out of bounds is in quoting Obama:

McCain ad: Obama says Iran is a "tiny" country, "doesn’t pose a serious threat." Terrorism, destroying Israel, those aren’t "serious threats"?

 

 

Here’s what Obama actually said, in a speech in Oregon in May:

 

Obama, May 18: Strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries. That’s what Kennedy did with Khrushchev. That’s what Reagan did with Gorbachev. That’s what Nixon did with Mao. I mean think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela – these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. And yet we were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we’re going to wipe you off the planet.

 

Obama didn’t say Iran is tiny – except in comparison to the once-huge Soviet Union. Iran’s population is estimated to be about 72.2 million by the Population Reference Bureau. Iran’s own statistics put it at 70,495,782 in 2006-2007. Either way, that’s about one-fourth of the 270 million people estimated to be living in the U.S.S.R. in 1982, according to various sources.

Nor did he say Iran doesn’t pose a serious threat, except in comparison to the former Soviet Union. And that’s a fact. At the time the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the Soviet Union had 12,117 strategic nuclear warheads, including 7,382 atop intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to a tally published by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Iran has zero nuclear warheads, and a National Intelligence Estimate completed last year concluded that Iran had stopped work in 2003 on a program to develop such weapons. Iran does continue to enrich uranium into material that might one day be made into a weapon, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency report issued last spring. And the NIE said Iran probably "at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons." But that’s a far cry from having thousands of nuclear weapons that could reach the United States in minutes.

 

The Israel Factor
The ad says Iran is "threatening to eliminate Israel" and implies that Obama fails to acknowledge the threat:

 

 

McCain ad: Terrorism, destroying Israel, those aren’t "serious threats"? Obama – dangerously unprepared to be president.

But on the contrary, when Obama spoke to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in June, he told that pro-Israel audience that "there is no greater threat to Israel – or to the peace and stability of the region – than Iran." He also said this:

Obama, June 4: The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.

We call a foul ball on this one. By separating Obama’s words from their context, and from his other comments on the subject, McCain’s ad distorts Obama’s stated views on Iran.

– by Viveca Novak

Sources

Rutkoff, Aaron. "McCain’s Hillary-Themed Ads Are Barely Broadcast." The Wall Street Journal online, 26 Aug. 2008.

Table of USSR/Russian Nuclear Warheads. Archive of Nuclear Data, Natural Resources Defense Council, Web site accessed 27 Aug. 2008.

National Intelligence Council, National Intelligence Estimate. "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities," Nov. 2007.

Obama, Barack. Speech before American Israel Public Affairs Committee, 4 June 2008.

2007 World Population Data Sheet. Population Reference Bureau, Web site accessed 27 Aug. 2008.

Population and Manpower, A Glance at Iran, Statistical Centre of Iran. Web site accessed 27 Aug. 2008.