April 2, 2008
POLITICS/WAR: The "100 Years of War in Iraq" Fairytale
The Democrats have an Iraq problem. The war has, for some time, been broadly unpopular, and the Democrats have tended to just assume that this should translate into Democratic votes, as the Democrats have been publicly identified as the anti-war party. But reality has a way of intruding. One problem is that some of the people who are most dissatisfied with the war are those who think it hasn't been waged aggressively enough, and naturally that's the group most inclined to support John McCain, a vocal supporter of the war but also a vocal supporter of a larger troop presence in Iraq for some years now. Another problem is that being locked into a narrative of defeat runs them up against pesky reality in the form of the counterinsurgency "surge" strategy and the improvements it has made in the military and political situation in Iraq, even through inevitable challenges like the recent counterattack in Basra. A third is the poor historical track record of dovish candidates in the race for the White House. But the broader problem is simply that their candidates don't have any sort of defensible vision for how regional security and America's place in the world would be improved by a headlong retreat now.
The serious, adult solution to this is to try to lay out a vision of how America's willingness to accept defeat in Iraq would not be like the dolorous consequences of defeat in Vietnam, or other great-power defeats in history. The easy solution is just to lie about McCain's position. Guess which one they chose, especially the Obama campaign, which is committed to pretending that you can plan for the future based on everything since 2002 never happening, rather than dealing with the world as it now is? I can't possibly improve on Charles Krauthammer's explanation of how McCain's vision of a permanent base structure in Iraq has been turned into "100 years of war in Iraq":
Asked at a New Hampshire campaign stop about possibly staying in Iraq 50 years, John McCain interrupted -- "Make it a hundred" -- then offered a precise analogy to what he envisioned: "We've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so." Lest anyone think he was talking about prolonged war-fighting rather than maintaining a presence in postwar Iraq, he explained: "That would be fine with me, as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed."
And lest anyone persist in thinking he was talking about war-fighting, he told his questioner: "It's fine with me and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintained a presence in a very volatile part of the world."
There is another analogy to the kind of benign and strategically advantageous "presence" McCain was suggesting for postwar Iraq: Kuwait. The U.S. (with allies) occupied Kuwait in 1991 and has remained there with a major military presence for 17 years. We debate dozens of foreign policy issues in this country. I've yet to hear any serious person of either party call for a pullout from Kuwait.
As Krauthammer notes, even Obama's own senior military adviser sounded the exact same tune in 2003:
The desirability of a similar presence in Iraq was obvious as long as five years ago to retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, one of Barack Obama's leading military advisers and his campaign co-chairman. During the first week of the Iraq War, McPeak (a war critic) suggested in an interview that "we'll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right." (Meaning, if we win.)
Why is that a hopeful outcome? Because maintaining a U.S. military presence in Iraq would provide regional stability, as well as cement a long-term allied relationship with the most important Arab country in the region.
As McPeak himself said about our long stay in Europe, Japan and Korea, "This is the way great powers operate."
Indeed, some of us have been arguing for years that long-term establishment of a U.S. military presence in a friendly Iraq would be one of the strategic benefits of the war. Read Krauthammer's entire column for examples of the Democrats' flagrant distortions of McCain's entirely clear explanation; some of the highlights:
-- "He (McCain) says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq" (Barack Obama, Feb. 19).
-- "We are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests might go on for another 100 years" (Obama, Feb. 26).
-- "He's (McCain) willing to keep this war going for 100 years" (Hillary Clinton, March 17).
A Howard Dean fundraising letter charging McCain with seeking "an endless war in Iraq." And a Democratic National Committee press release in which Dean asserts: "McCain's strategy is a war without end. ... Elect John McCain and get 100 years in Iraq."
McCain's point, which he continues to make and on which he continues to press Obama for a clear response, is that even as Iraqis take more control over the security situation in their country, there will still be benefits to a U.S. presence in Iraq for precisely the same reasons as in places like German, Japan, Kuwait, and Korea. Obama seems to understand that he has gone far out on a limb, as when pressed he started babbling instead about having troops around just to do embassy security. But when the press isn't there to question him, don't bank on him dropping the "100 years of war in Iraq" line. It's just too tempting.
UPDATE: The Columbia Journalism Review, not exactly a known hotbed of right-wingery, concludes that "Obama is seriously misleading voters -- if not outright lying to them -- about exactly what McCain said." California Yankee has more, including FactCheck.org's characterization of Obama's attacks as a "serious distortion to the point of rank falsehood."
SECOND UPDATE: The Washington Post's FactChecker, which quotes Obama on Monday as saying "You know, John McCain wants to continue a war in Iraq perhaps as long as 100 years," runs the videotape of McCain and concludes that the Democrats "have twisted his words".
"When the press isn't there to question him"?
That's rich. I mean, just because it's obvious to most of us that Obama is a dishonest politician lying about his opponent in order to rally his army of blissed-out dunderheads that doesn't mean the press isn't going to play along. In fact, I think there's some sort of guild ostracization for those who use sharp objects around the Magical Negro Candidate.
You state: "Indeed, some of us have been arguing for years that long-term establishment of a U.S. military presence in a friendly Iraq would be one of the strategic benefits of the war."
But is there any indication that the Iraqi's would want a long-term US base in their country?? I can certainly understand why they wouldn't, given that it might be lightening rod for any terrorist organization who wants to target the US somewhere. It might be in US interests, but I'm not necessarily sure it's in Iraq's interests.
Well, the deal the Bush Administration signed with the Maliki government in November certainly suggests continuing support at present for a U.S. presence. Obviously, in a democracy, that can change, but my guess is that even if there is some public unease, the Iraqis will be happy to have U.S. bases for much the same reason South Koreans grudgingly tolerate our presence - because it's a security guarantee against an aggressive and unstable neighbor.
I would be much more impressed with this, and McCain's comments - if he had some idea of how much longer he would be willing to fight this. No more "as long as it takes" nebulous nonsense.
Come out, and tell the American people that as much as you hope it will not, you're more than willing to commit to 5 years of the same troop levels, the same costs. If things get better, then less, if it doesn't, then it will continue after. Until then, it may be disingenuous - but it doesn't make it far from the truth. I do wonder, if 100 years longer or shorter than as long as it takes.. Hmmm...
"But is there any indication that the Iraqi's would want a long-term US base in their country?? I can certainly understand why they wouldn't, given that it might be lightening rod for any terrorist organization who wants to target the US somewhere."
While most of them, repeatedly, would like us to go home, if we disappeared into the woodwork to focus only on helping train them, and protect their borders - it probably wouldn't bother them. Tanks rolling through their streets, and door to door terrorist hunting is much more disruptive than training on RADAR.
"In fact, I think there's some sort of guild ostracization for those who use sharp objects around the Magical Negro Candidate."
Funny story. Last year, about this time, when Rush began to run his spots, I was talking to a black friend of mine who was very disillusioned with the Dems, and was taking a hard look at Romney, McCain and Guliani. And then this happened, and he hasn't looked back.
Thanks Republicans - for making black people feel unwelcome since 1960.
I tend to agree that McCain wasn't saying "100 more years of war". Of course, McCain (as a Presidential nominee) should know the difference between Shiite and Sunni, but he doesn't (I guess that's why he needs Lieberman--to correct him).
Call me old-fashioned, but I think the next President should know the difference between his ass and a whole in the ground.
Funny thing, about those military bases in Iraq. When the war started, us Lefties said that this was the US's end-game. Of course, we were called every name in the book, including naive. Turns out, us Dirty F'n Hippies (TM), were right about this, as well as the war being a strategic mistake that would make the US less secure and would last for years (all of which has turned out to be correct).
Of course to point this out is "looking backwards and trying to assign blame, instead of looking forward to solve the problems". That argument is a good deal for the Right. They know the disaster in Iraq can't be solved, so there will never be a time to look back and hold people accountable.
BTW, clinging to "the surge is working" nonsense is foolish. It was never working as the actions in Basra proved just this past week. And it shows when war supporters make contradictory statements to back the loser (i.e. "violence is down, which shows the surge is working", and "violence is up, because the surge is working").
C'mon people, Patraeus (a political hack) has to push this BS because he's working for the Bush Administration, but if you're not on their payroll there's no reason for you to utter such nonsense.
Dave, you lost me. I don't know what Rush Limbaugh spot you're referring to.
Crank, I stand corrected. I wonder when this hit critical mass for the media, why they began all at once to call Obama on this blatant misrepresentation when it's been going on for months.
When a lefty is too dishonest for the CJR to bear, that lefty is pretty dishonest.
Yeah the Republicans sure have the high ground here....at least the Dems are going after McCain for his own words not his pastor's.
I think Dave is referring to a Rush Limbaugh song parody called "Barack the Magic Negro." Google it and hear it for yourself. It is very cringeworthy.
"South Koreans grudgingly tolerate our presence" your comparing apples and oranges and last I checked the Koreans never used IED on our troops. As much as Obama is misleading in his twisting of McCain's words. McCain is being just as vague with his pie in the sky plan. Iraq will always be unstable since Iran no longer needs to continue with using Hamas as a proxy in a war with us. They are getting more bang for their buck using Al Sadr and others.
"Dave, you lost me. I don't know what Rush Limbaugh spot you're referring to."
"I think Dave is referring to a Rush Limbaugh song parody called "Barack the Magic Negro." Google it and hear it for yourself. It is very cringeworthy."
Yup - it's not like it is even that hard, you don't even need all the words! Rush Magic, and it's there.
And yet this easily findable, not hard to remember item, which matched up nicely to your words - is totally unknown and mystifying.
how America's willingness to accept defeat in Iraq would not be like the dolorous consequences of defeat in Vietnam
I'm confused. So the problems of the 70s sprung not from the disaster that was 9 years of mismanagement of the Vietnam War, nor from the fact that we entered the war under false pretenses, nor that the enormous cost of the war (along with elements of the Great Society, Nixon's economic policies, and the energy crunch) was a major counterweight against the chances of economic recovery?
The "dolorous consequences" sprung from the fact that after 9 years of incompetence & lies we finally cut bait and got the hell out of there?
Wow Crank, you are your fire-breathing breathren really live in an alternative universe, don't you? I thought the Vietnam War was universally considered a mistake from soup-to-nuts. I didn't know there were still educated folks in this country that thought leaving in '73 was a bad idea any more than there were people who thought going in in '64 was peachy & keen.
No wonder you guys still think "staying the course" in Iraq is a good plan. You haven't revisited pre-Tet history, let alone post-"Mission Accomplished."
Has anyone told you yet that the North won the Civil War?
Actually, what McCain said about Shiite/Sunni was exactly right. He shouldn't have let himself be corrected. There is ample proof Shiite groups (and nation-states) have been assisting AQI.
Alex - We have been through this. Robert's not listening.
Mike - I never said that the decision to go into Vietnam as we did, and run the war as it was run, especially in the LBJ years, wasn't part of the problem, and I certainly have never argued that the economic policies of the 1964-80 period were not catastrophically stupid. There's fair arguments to be made about what we should have done with Vietnam on the spectrum from full-out war to the model of 1980s Afghanistan to staying out, but it's pretty much inarguable that the end result of American defeat there, including the spectacle of us abandoning and betraying allies, turning a blind eye to genocide, and refusing to enforce violations of peace treaties we signed, was a disaster for the free world.
What gave you the idea that I have even the slightest sympathy for the Confederacy? I'm a Party of Lincoln guy all the way.
I seriously doubt Limbaugh invented the term Magical Negro. I have seen the term used for years in reference to the wise black character in the movies who calmly points the callow white knucklehead in the direction of enlightement.
Rush absolutely didn't invent the term, nor was it coined by right-wingers; I believe the term seeped into the political lexicon after it was rolled out in a column by some lefty in the LA Times. I still think it would be better not to use it, no matter how well the term's intended meaning fits the treatment accorded to Obama.
I do have some doubts about whether the Iraqi's would accept a long-term US base, both for the terrorist angle which I mentioned, and also because the Iraqi's may remember the Shah in Iran and worry about establishing ties too closely with US.
I wouldn't go so far to say that Iraq will "always" be unstable. Even if it is unstable for a long period of time, it may not have much to do with the US or Iran. Anytime you lift the lid off a totalitarian regime, you also allow internal ethnic/religious tensions, which had previously been suppressed, to resurface. While al-Queda and Iran may try to exploit those tensions for their own reasons, they wouldn't be able to do so if the tensions didn't exist.
Because all of this is mainly out of our control, I don't like how were are using a "democratic, stable Iraq" as a measuring stick for US "success" and "failure". I think it's enough that we are rooting out and dismantling a terrorist organization that attacked our country.
"Funny story. Last year, about this time, when Rush began to run his spots, I was talking to a black friend of mine who was very disillusioned with the Dems, and was taking a hard look at Romney, McCain and Guliani. And then this happened, and he hasn't looked back.
Thanks Republicans - for making black people feel unwelcome since 1960."
Right, because the likes of Rice, Powell, and Thomas have never had any slurs leveled against them from the left. Spare me.
Calling the Republican Party the party of Lincoln is like saying the Yankees are the team of Babe Ruth. The GOP has nothing to do with Lincoln and Babe Ruth last played 70 years ago.
"I seriously doubt Limbaugh invented the term Magical Negro. "
"Rush absolutely didn't invent the term, nor was it coined by right-wingers; believe the term seeped into the political lexicon after it was rolled out in a column by some lefty in the LA Times."
Absolutely right - it's been around for some time, especially around film/novels. The LA times guy used it, once - and the next day, was repeated more than 20 times by Limbaugh. As well as a song, which is how it really entered the lexicon.
I neither said it came from him first, or was invented - but it sure did get the most popularity, and took the strongest hold.
"I still think it would be better not to use it,"
I do as well. And yet, it will continue to pop up, used by people who say 'no, see! this is happening!' while avoiding entirely the notion their words may have a negative connotation.
Correction for Crank.
I "listened" to the BS about Shiites helping AQI.
Similarly, I "saw" Colin Powell's "proof" that Iraq was a threat to the United States.
I'm not a farmer. Just because someone's selling manure (BS), doesn't mean I'm going to buy it.
Does GOP now stand for Gullible Old Party?
What gave you the idea that I have even the slightest sympathy for the Confederacy?
Nothing at all. My (admittedly poor) analogy related to lack of knowledge of the results of past American wars. Nothing about sympathies for treasonous rebs!
I'm quite sure you'd have been a gung-ho supporter of a massive troop allocation in the name of big government expansion, both politically & geographically. ;-)
1) An American military presence in Iraq of an unspecified length of time is welcomed and needed by the Iraqi people. Really. That's why they have been so incredibly unhelpful in creating their own security infrastructure and pushing the insurgents out of their country. They no want Yankee go home.
2) Whatever preponderance of evidence there is to support the idea that AQI wasn't there to begin with when we invaded, it's a great argument that now we are there, we should just stick around as long as possible to kick their butts - y'know, like we have been. Everybody knows that supreme military might and technology trumps guerilla warfare and homemade IEDs all day long. To say nothing of disillusioned young Americans eating seven-dollar Big Macs vs. ideologically commited and disciplined jihadists. What's not to like here?
3) There are tons of parallels to draw between Lincoln and Bush/Cheney/Rummy/Rice/Powell/Thomas. Hell, they're practically all the same person.
4) Rush Limbaugh - every bit as loved and nearly as intelligent as Larry the Cable Guy - would NEVER use a derogatory term that at best mocks a race and at worst is outright evidence of bigotry. Not unless some pinko lefty wallflower did first. Then it's fair game.
5) This is NOT the dumbest idea Crank has ever documented:
"There's fair arguments to be made about what we should have done with Vietnam on the spectrum from full-out war to the model of 1980s Afghanistan to staying out"
6) The "model of 1980s Afghanistan" had NOTHING TO DO with 9/11.
7) I am offering a certain bridge connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn for a song.