WASHINGTON Republican John McCain's campaign on Saturday sharply criticized Democratic rival Barack Obama for canceling a visit to wounded troops in Germany, contending Obama chose foreign leaders and cheering Europeans over "injured American heroes."
Obama's campaign called the accusation "wildly inappropriate." His spokesman has said that the visit to a military hospital in Germany was scrapped after the Pentagon raised concerns about political activity on a military base. Earlier, though, the campaign had said Obama decided the visit might be seen as inappropriate politicking. However, the Pentagon said the senator was never told not to visit.
A new McCain ad that began airing Saturday in selected markets also chides Obama as disrespectful for making "time to go to the gym" during his European visit while at the same time canceling the visit with wounded troops.
"Seems the Pentagon wouldn't allow him to bring cameras," according to the ad, which is being televised in Colorado, Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C. area. "John McCain is always there for our troops."
McCain himself joined in the rebuke, saying in an interview to be aired Sunday by ABC's "This Week" that "if I had been told by the Pentagon that I couldn't visit those troops, and I was there and wanted to be there, I guarantee you, there would have been a seismic event."
The McCain campaign's criticism came as it grappled for another day with the intense media attention focused on Obama's tour of the Middle East and Europe. The Arizona Republican had goaded Obama into visiting Iraq and Afghanistan, then watched as Obama's meetings with the leaders of those countries and Jordan, Israel, the Palestinians, Germany, France and Great Britain dominated the political news.
Responding, Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama and McCain both believed that troops should be honored and noted that the Illinois senator had visited troops in Iraq and Afghanistan last week and had made numerous trips to Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Obama still didn't want injured soldiers "pulled into the back-and-forth of a political campaign," Vietor said in a statement.
"Senator McCain knows full well that Senator Obama strongly supports and honors our troops, which is what makes this attack so disingenuous. This politicization of our soldiers is exactly what Senator Obama sought to avoid," Vietor said.
Obama was flying from London to Chicago on Saturday when the McCain campaign issued a statement from Joe Repya, a retired Army colonel who said Obama had broken a commitment to visit the wounded Americans.
"Several explanations were offered, none was convincing and each was at odds with the statements of American military leaders," Repya said. "For a young man so apt at playing president, Barack Obama badly misjudged the important demands of the office he seeks."
On Thursday, the day Obama gave an evening address to an estimated 200,000 people in Berlin, his campaign issued two written statements about the canceled trip to Ramstein Air Base and the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. In the first, no mention was made of Pentagon misgivings, only that Obama "decided out of respect for these servicemen and women that it would be inappropriate to make a stop to visit troops at a U.S. military facility as part of a trip funded by the campaign." A second statement, by retired general and Obama adviser Scott Gration, mentioned the Pentagon's involvement.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Friday that a trip from Berlin to Ramstein had been planned for weeks, with Obama expecting to leave most staff and reporters at the airport while he went to the hospital to avoid appearances of a campaign event. After the Pentagon raised concerns within two days of the visit, it was scrapped, he said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Obama would have been required to conform to the Defense Department prohibition of political activity, but that the senator was never told he couldn't visit the hospital.