I’m assuming most TWN readers have seen this before:
Iraq is and will continue to be about 90 percent of the foreign policy conversation in this campaign (still not happy about that). And right now, much of the Iraq debate has revolved around redeployment details: who, how many, how fast, etc. It’s a debate over tactics, albeit one with huge consequences, but it is not the kind of debate over the U.S. role in the world that the country needs.
John McCain’s pronouncement that he’d be ok with a U.S. military presence in Iraq for 100 (1,000…10,000…etc.) years could change all that. So far, some of McCain’s critics have tried to fit this comment into the narrow “withdrawal” debate, suggesting that what he really means is that he’d be fine with no redeployments and perpetual war. That’s not what McCain said at this New Hampshire town hall meeting — but then again, he may hold that belief since neither he nor anyone else has given us any reason to believe that things will change in Iraq if we “stay the course,” so it’s a fair inference on the part of these critics.
More important is what McCain actually did mean: that the U.S. should maintain a military presence in Iraq not only as long as it takes to end hostilities, but long after hostilities have ended. Iraq will not be anything like Japan, Germany or South Korea in the foreseeable future. Given the events of the past five years, the Iraqi population simply will not tolerate a permanent U.S. military presence, especially if large-scale violence has ended. McCain is seeing things through a 20th century prism that minimizes the costs and sometimes destabilizing effects of projecting U.S. military power around the world.
Democrats and moderate Republicans should engage on this point with every bit as much fervor as they engage on the withdrawal debate. The case needs to be made that there are costs to overdeploying the U.S. military and that alternative sources of power — international laws, institutions and diplomacy — can fill the gap. This is one answer — though certainly not the only one — to the question of how to make the Iraq debate about something bigger that I hope Matt Yglesias’s book will help to address.
There’s no need to use the “100 years” quote to paint the man into a corner and portray him as a proponent of perpetual war (even though he may in fact be one). His argument is wrong on its face and needs to be dealt with head on.
— Scott Paul