- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2008

LONDON | Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign assailed his Democratic rival Saturday for scrapping a stop at a U.S. military hospital in Germany during his nine-day foreign tour.

Mr. McCain himself criticized Sen. Barack Obama for canceling the planned trip to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, and his campaign quickly released an advertisement placing the reversal as the Democratic candidate’s latest snub of the U.S. military.

The Obama team has said it canceled the visit after being told by the U.S. military that it was too political, an explanation Mr. McCain scoffed at in an interview with ABC News set to air Sunday on “This Week.”

“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,” he told ABC.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor denounced the McCain team’s actions as the work of “an honorable man who is running an increasingly dishonorable campaign.”

Also Saturday, Mr. Obama spoke for the first time about his canceled trip, which also was to have taken in Ramstein Air Base.

Mr. Obama told reporters here that while he wasn’t sure of every detail, it was not intended as a slight and said he began having second thoughts about the trip after he learned he could not bring along a campaign adviser.

“We were treating it in the same way we treat a visit to Walter Reed, which I was able to do a few weeks ago without any fanfare whatsoever. I was going to be accompanied by one of my advisers, a former military officer, and we got notice that he would be treated as a campaign person, and it would, therefore, be perceived as political because he had endorsed my candidacy, but he wasn’t on the Senate staff,” Mr. Obama said.

Rather than trigger “a concern that maybe our visit was going to be perceived as political,” Mr. Obama said he phoned some of the troops instead. He spent some of his time in Germany working out at a gym.

But Mr. McCain pointed out that Mr. Obama still could have visited Landstuhl and implied that the Illinois senator really just wanted to be photographed with wounded troops rather than be with them.

“I know of no Pentagon regulation that would have prevented him from going there - without the media and the press and all of the associated people. Nothing that I know of would have kept him from visiting those wounded troops,” Mr. McCain said.

He noted his own visits to Landstuhl and said, “I think people make a judgment by what we do and what we don’t do. He certainly found time to do other things.”

Mr. Vietor called the criticism “disingenuous,” saying that “Senator McCain knows full well that Senator Obama strongly supports and honors our troops.”

Mr. Obama “has visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed numerous times,” Mr. Vietor said. “This politicization of our soldiers is exactly what Senator Obama sought to avoid, and it’s not worthy of Senator McCain or the ‘civil’ campaign he claimed he would run.”

The Obama campaign also distributed a statement by Sen. Jack Reed, in which the Rhode Island Democrat, who was with Mr. Obama for troop visits last week in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the Democratic candidate had then “expressed his gratitude for their service without press or fanfare.”

In his London press conference, Mr. Obama said he canceled the Landstuhl visit because he didn’t want to put the military in the position of having to judge whether his visit met the Pentagon’s rules.

“The last thing that I want to do is have injured soldiers and the staff at these wonderful institutions having to sort through whether this is political or not,” he said.

Republicans weren’t buying any of it, and party operatives and McCain aides fanned the flames Saturday by e-mailing reporters multiple times about the issue, even before the candidate’s ABC interview was released and before the new “Troops” ad hit the Internet.

The ad criticizes Mr. Obama for not visiting Iraq for years and for voting against war-funding bills, before noting the Landstuhl cancellation.

“And now, he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops. Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras,” the narrator says.

The McCain team did not provide details about their ad buy beyond saying it would “run in key states.”

Republican National Committee operatives also pounced on what they called Mr. Obama’s “ever-evolving” reasons for the cancellation.

The Obama team had said Friday that the Pentagon discouraged the candidate from coming, a charge the military immediately denied. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Mr. Obama is “certainly welcome to visit a military medical facility any time he wants to,” as long as he followed the protocols for an incumbent senator.

A military official told NBC on Friday that the campaign was told that Mr. Obama “could only bring two or three of his Senate staff members, no campaign officials or workers.” In addition, “Obama could not bring any media. Only military photographers would be permitted to record Obama’s visit.” But the official said that on those terms, which are routinely applied to all lawmakers’ visits to U.S. military hospitals worldwide, “he was more than welcome. We were all ready for him.”

The flap plays into a common theme of Republican criticism of Mr. Obama’s trip overseas; namely, that it showed him to be someone who feels more at home with Europeans than with American troops stationed abroad.

In a statement distributed by the McCain campaign Saturday, retired Lt. Col. Joe Repya said that “visits with world leaders and speeches to cheering Europeans shouldn’t be a substitute for comforting injured American heroes.”

Mr. Obama made a promise to visit the hospitals, but “broke that commitment, instead flitting from one European capital to the next,” he said. “For a young man so apt at playing president, Barack Obama badly misjudged the important demands of the office he seeks.”

Republicans also criticized Mr. Obama for calling himself a “citizen of the world” in his speech in Berlin and said his prediction he would win the election and be working with the foreign leaders in the future was presumptuous.

Excited Europeans at every stop didn’t help the matter as some even started referring to the candidate as “President Obama.”

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