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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Iraq War, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    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

    Of COURSE Marshall says he thinks it a lie. BEcause if he accepts it as truth, Marshall has no legs to stand on with the arguments he’s made thusfar. Such is the price you pay when you become an anti-war foamer.

    As for casualties, James, I’m sure you noted it, but I wonder how many others have; More people were killed in Chicago and in Philly last weekend, than were killed in Iraq. Clearly, the military is over-extended, and we must withdraw from those cities at once. By Marshall’s stated logic, it’s the only option open to us.




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  2. cian says:

    McCain is happy to see American troops stationed in Iraq for the next 100 years, so long as no American troops are being killed or maimed and if reaching that point takes another 100 years of American troops being killed and maimed, so be it.

    My head hurts. And much as I admire Senator McCain’s service to his country, America will hurt even more if he gets elected.




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  3. Uncle Sam says:

    Of course our continued post-war presence there would be contingent upon the permission of the Iraqi government, as is the case with other countries such as Germany, South Korea, etc.




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  4. Michael says:

    ore people were killed in Chicago and in Philly last weekend, than were killed in Iraq.

    Really? What are the numbers for those?




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  5. cian says:

    Really? What are the numbers for those?

    Michael,

    I’ll think you’ll find that when you pull them out of your ass, numbers can be anything you want




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  6. Michael says:

    I’ll think you’ll find that when you pull them out of your ass, numbers can be anything you want

    True as that may be, Bit seemed pretty confident in the validity of his statement, so I’ll give him the chance to show me that it is indeed valid.




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  7. Bithead says:

    Well, let’s see.

    Try looking at the FBI crime reports… they still keep them, you know… and compare them with the reports from Centcom.

    All very publicly available.




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  8. Michael says:

    Well, let’s see.

    Try looking at the FBI crime reports… they still keep them, you know… and compare them with the reports from Centcom.

    All very publicly available.

    Which of course you already did, so as to know for a fact that your statement was true before posting it.

    So you can simply post the numbers that you found, and if I don’t believe them, then I will verify.




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  9. floyd says:

    Every lie ever told was proven with statistics!




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  10. floyd says:

    No, I will not present statistics to prove it.[lol]




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  11. James Joyner says:

    I understand that 78.3 percent of all statistics are completely made up.




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  12. Michael says:

    I understand that 78.3 percent of all statistics are completely made up.

    40% of people know that.




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  13. Bithead says:

    (Sigh)

    Citing the recent spike in shootings in the Chicago area, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama have requested a meeting with Justice Department officials to discuss the inclusion of the Chicago area in the department’s Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative—a program created to enhance gang prevention across the country.

    “Chicago is home to some of the largest and most violent gangs in the country, but has been left out of one of the most highly touted federal anti-gang initiatives,” Durbin said in a news release Monday.

    Since April 18, at least 54 shootings have taken place in the Chicago area, resulting in at least 15 deaths. Law enforcement officials have expressed concern that as the weather warms, gang violence will worsen.

    How many of our guys got kille din Iraq through the period, Mike? Comon, this stuff isn’t rocket science.




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  14. Michael says:

    How many of our guys got kille din Iraq through the period, Mike? Comon, this stuff isn’t rocket science.

    Which period? You claimed “last weekend”, your quote says “Since April 18”, which is not just last weekend, since the article was written on April 28. It does say that for last weekend (Friday – Sunday), only 3 people were killed.

    You haven’t given me any numbers on Philly though, so we still can’t measure how many deaths you were referring to, or over what time period.

    Here is what I could come up with on Iraq:

    “Last weekend” being April 25 – 27: 127 people killed.

    “Since April 18”, through (but not including) April 28: 413 people killed.

    Once you supply some number on Philly, we can finally calculate whether or not your statement is true.




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  15. Nikolay says:

    How many of our guys got kille din Iraq through the period, Mike? Comon, this stuff isn’t rocket science.

    Even not minding the fact that your numbers are BS, it’s kind of striking that you first talk about “less people being killed in Iraq” and then about “how many of our guys got killed”. Did it ever occur to you that Iraqi people are people? Judging by your words, it didn’t.

    Otherwise, it’s absurd to compare the numbers of people killed without taking into account the total population. If one follows your logic, if you send 5 people daily on a mission which has all of them killed, there is nothing wrong with that mission, because, say, “more people die of choking up on a restaurant food in the whole world daily”.




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  16. Bithead says:

    Gotta read ’em all, Mike. I corrected myself saying weekend BEFORE last.




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  17. Michael says:

    Gotta read ’em all, Mike. I corrected myself saying weekend BEFORE last.

    Where? I’m not seeing any comment with that correction. Perhaps it was caught in the spam filter?




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  18. cian says:

    And then…

    Bithead got his butt kicked.




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  19. glasnost says:

    How many police officers were killed in Chicago last month, peanut gallery? Was it 50? Are you honestly comparing six million US citizens in Chicago to 150,000 armed soldiers in Iraq? Does that make any kind of sense?

    Still, at least you’re attempting to defend McCain’s quote on its “merits”. Others who have attempted to whine about how the quote was “taken out of context” have failed to make any kind of sense.




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  20. Bithead says:

    Sorry I didn’t get back to this yesterday. It got busy here at work, a sudden push.

    And yes, it would appear that for whatever reason my correction didn’t make it in. Where I got busy was a networking issue here in the office, and likely that would account for my post not making it in. As I said in that post, sorry for the error.

    And since the Chicago numbers are so high for that weekend, I suppose we can ignore Philly for the moment, though I will note the numbers of shootings ahve been rather high down there, too of late.




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  21. Michael says:

    And yes, it would appear that for whatever reason my correction didn’t make it in. Where I got busy was a networking issue here in the office, and likely that would account for my post not making it in. As I said in that post, sorry for the error.

    Yeah, I sometimes wish we could save “draft” comments that we don’t want to post yet, but don’t want to discard either. I sometimes use Tomboy for that. No such luck when I’m on Windows though.

    And since the Chicago numbers are so high for that weekend, I suppose we can ignore Philly for the moment, though I will note the numbers of shootings ahve been rather high down there, too of late.

    The Chicago numbers on their own are not enough to validate your statement though, for either last weekend or the one before.




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