Considering how worked up John McCain gets if anyone confronts him with his “100 years” comments on Iraq, it's odd that he continues to articulate
June 9, 2008

Considering how worked up John McCain gets if anyone confronts him with his “100 years” comments on Iraq, it's odd that he continues to articulate a policy of indefinite war. The Jed Report highlighted this clip from last night’s NBC Nightly News:

In other words, McCain’s policy for Iraq is to stay the course, indefinitely, with as many troops and resources as required. Oddly enough, that was also his policy in 2003, and 2004, and come to think of it, 2005, 2006, and 2007. Just keep doing what Bush has been doing, and wait for it to work. Every step of the way, when asked, just say that the policy is either “working” or “winning,” and hope no one looks too closely to see if that’s right.

Of course, this isn’t a policy; it’s a joke.

By his own admission, McCain’s approach to a U.S. presence in Iraq — and remember, he’s already confused about how many troops are currently in Iraq — is that we should be prepared to leave troops in Iraq for up to a century after the war ends. But how long do we keep U.S. troops in Iraq during the war? As it turns out, that’s indefinite, too.

I’m reminded of a recent piece from Ron Brownstein, who explained why it’s incumbent on McCain to go into a little more detail.

First, if McCain doesn’t envision a 100-year American front-line combat presence in Iraq, how long is he willing to keep U.S. forces in that role? So far, all he has said is that the United States should withdraw only if it concludes that the Iraq mission is unachievable or when it has achieved success, which he defines as the establishment of “a peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state.” […]

McCain has not said when, but he has pledged that Iraqi units will eventually assume the major combat responsibility. That prompts the next question McCain should address: What would then become the mission for the U.S. forces he wants to maintain in Iraq?

McCain hasn’t been able to answer either question. He hasn’t even tried.

He has argued that after the war without end is over, and U.S. troops remain in a stable Iraq for generations, their mission would be to deter external aggression, the same way American troops are in South Korea to prevent North Korea from getting any ideas.

But that doesn’t work in Iraq’s case, either.

[T]he U.S. and South Korea agreed that North Korea posed a threat. The American troop presence in Germany and Japan long rested on a similar agreement about the potential danger from the Soviet Union, notes Ivo Daalder, a Brookings Institution senior fellow in foreign policy.

Although the U.S. considers Iran the most pressing external danger to Iraq, “the overwhelming majority of Iraqis don’t see Iran as a threat,” Daalder says. “They see it as a partner.” If a threat from Iran isn’t the motivation, Al Qaeda might provide the most likely justification for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq. But if Al Qaeda remains a threat there, conditions would likely not meet McCain’s standard that American troops are no longer at risk.

Indeed, skeptics raise another question that fundamentally challenges McCain’s analogy to Germany, Japan, and South Korea: Could U.S. troops ever be accepted in Iraq as completely as they have been in those societies? Or would our forces always be a target in Iraq, not only for Al Qaeda but also for the contending domestic factions? As Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean asked this week, “Does anyone think … if you keep our troops in Iraq for a hundred years, people won’t be … setting off suicide bombs?”

McCain hates the “100 years” talk, because, as he sees it, the discussion removes the context. But therein lies the point: McCain can’t offer any context with depth, because he doesn’t really have a policy.

So, what are we left with? McCain’s approach is to fight an indefinite war, followed by an indefinite military presence. As he sees it, hopefully the Iraqis will reconcile, and hopefully Iraq will become stable, and then hopefully they won’t mind if we stick around for a generation or five while we keep their allies at bay.

And remember, Americans are supposed to believe that foreign policy and national security are McCain’s strengths.

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