McCain Flip-Flop on 100 Years in Iraq?
Josh Marshall is angry at the press for buying into what he believes is a lie: That John McCain doesn’t want 100 years of war in Iraq but rather is willing to see a Germany-style long term, peaceful presence.
McCain does not want to leave Iraq. Period. He wants tens of thousands of troops to stay in Iraq permanently. He made a big point of this during the primaries when it was politically advantageous to do so. And he followed up with a qualifier explaining that it’s okay because our occupation of Iraq will soon be like our presence in Germany and Japan where nobody gets killed. But there’s little reason to believe our occupation of Iraq will ever be like that. We tried this in Lebanon; the French tried this in Algeria; the British even tried it in Iraq. Western countries have a very poor history garrisoning Muslim countries in the Middle East. Iraq isn’t like Germany or Japan, not simply because of the history of the country but because both countries accepted decades-long US deployments as a counterweight to threatening neighbors. The relevant point is that McCain believes American troops should stay in Iraq permanently. His pipe dream about Iraq turning into Germany doesn’t change that. It just shows his substitution of wishful thinking for sound strategic judgment.
Now, I happen to agree that it’s unlikely that Iraq is going to become much like Germany in the near future. I do, however, think that Iraq is more likely to achieve something that passes for a workable democracy with our continued presence than without it.
Steve Benen observes that McCain has changed his mind on this score, anyway, at least four times in the last three years.
* In 2005, McCain decided Iraqis resent our military presence, so we should reject a Korea-like model for long-term troop deployment. He insisted that “U.S. ‘visibility’ was detrimental to the Iraq mission and that Iraqis were responding negatively to America’s presence — positions held by both Obama and Clinton.”
* In 2006, McCain reversed course, and embraced the Korea model for a long-term military presence.
* In 2007, McCain reversed course again, saying the Korean analogy doesn’t work and shouldn’t be followed. “[E]ventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws,” McCain told Charlie Rose last fall.
* And in 2008, McCain reversed course yet again, deciding that we should be prepared to leave troops in Iraq, even if it means 100 years or more.
Without links to provide exact quotations and context, it’s rather difficult to assess the degree to which this constitutes “flip-flopping” vice nuance. Offhand, though, they don’t seem necessarily contradictory. One can simultaneously think that having American troops as the face of the operation is damaging the mission but that American troops are needed to bolster the efforts of the Iraqi forces and that it’s unlikely that Iraq will ever be Korea but that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if it did.
Ed Morrissey located the transcript of the 2005 comments, on Hardball. He thinks there is indeed a contradiction in McCain’s position. His argument is long and I’ll let you read it for yourself to decide. I disagree, however.
The heart of what McCain said in 2005 is almost exactly what he says in 2008:
It is the casualties that creates the discontent amongst Americans. We’ve been in Bosnia for, what, 10, 12, years, Kosovo for 10 years, South Korea for 50 years. Americans aren’t upset about that.
This is precisely the sentiment that spawned the too-glib-by-half “100 years” comment. It’s not the presence of troops in another country that’s the problem but rather those troops getting killed and wounded.
What is different is the statement, made in 2005, that, “I not only think we could get along without [a long-term United States military presence], but I think one of our big problems has been the fact that many Iraqis resent American military presence,” essentially reiterated in the 2007 Charlie Rose appearance, and his recent comments that a long-term presence like Korea would be fine with him. It’s not impossible to simultaneously believe that a Korea-style presence is unlikely given the cultural and other differences but that it would be fine if it developed that way, I suppose. Then again, it doesn’t make much sense to base one’s answer on a hypothetical future one thinks unlikely.
I sent an inquiry about this to McCain’s campaign yesterday afternoon and have not heard back. It’s something I’ll try to ask him about in the next blogger conference call.