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February 12, 2008

Who Doesnt Understand War?
Posted by Michael Cohen

I really hope this astounding interview with John McCain doesn't get lost in the media coverage of today's Potomac Primary, because it really is instructive in showing just how out of touch John McCain is on foreign policy. Watch the video here:

I couldn't find a transcript so I'm relying in part on my own back of the envelope scribbling, but here's the gist of what he said:

Anyone who worries about how long we’re in Iraq does not understand the military and does not understand war. The question is not how long we stay in Iraq, the question is whether we are able to reduce the casualties, eliminate them, have the Iraqi military, as they are today, take over more and more of our responsibilities. 

We have troops in Kuwait. I don't hear a single American say "get the troops out of Kuwait." We have a base in Turkey. We've had troops for 60 years in Germany and Japan. We've had troops in South Korea since 1950.

First of all, I'm not so sure it's the best idea to tell the 64% of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq that they don't understand war. Second, someone might want to mention to John that no one is shooting at the troops in Turkey, South Korea or Kuwait.

But the more important point here is that McCain simply is wrong about the real issues in Iraq. Improving security, while important, is not the key to ending the violence in Iraq. To channel my inner Mitt Romney, it's simply the wrong metric.

There is no short-term military solution to the war in Iraq. The key to success in Iraq is moving forward with political reform and it is on this subject that McCain has nothing to say. This is a somewhat stunning omission, but it's genuinely reflective of McCain's basic mindset, which seems to place an inordinate emphasis on military rather than political solutions. When I saw him in Concord, New Hampshire he talked about "knowing how to deal with Iran" and the implication was pretty clear - he wasn't interested in having a chat with Ahmedinejad. This guy is a warrior. Fine, but frankly it's a warrior mindset that got us into the current mess we're in right now in Iraq.

And if I can dig a little deeper, if American troops are in Iraq say 5 or even 10 years from now isn't that a pretty clear sign that the strategy we've undertaken has been a failure. The question of how long we stay in Iraq actually is kind of important. I don't really understand how McCain can say that it doesn't matter.

In the end though, it's not just that John McCain wants to keep the troops in Iraq for 100 years it's that he doesn't really seem  to understand what victory in Iraq even means. If his goal is end the violence in Iraq and eliminate casualties (which by the way plays right into the hands of Al Qaeda insurgents) then he's right we might be there for 100 years, because without real political reconciliation that's likely how long it will take.



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Part of the reason why no one says let's get the troops out of Kuwait, South Korea, Germany and the rest is because the issue is largely invisible in our politics and media. American military bases across the globe are not a product of the public demanding them, nor are they all obviously necessary for present day national security reasons. If those who support this policy were forced to talk about it and defend it to the public, the public might well be demanding that those troops be brought home as well.

I saw these same comments and had a similar reaction. When McCain added that it is “really almost insulting to one’s intelligence” to question “how long we’re in Iraq,” it was my intelligence that became insulted.

McCain takes "the war on terror" too literally. He does not seem to recognize that we are engaged in a global stuggle against extremism, not simply a war against terrorists. During the same comments he makes the assertion that withdrawl from Iraq is a bad idea because that is "how Al Qaeda will trumpet how they defeated the United States of America." McCain makes this argument often, he seems to be truly concerned about what Al Qaeda says yet he fails to remember the history of Al Qaeda's struggle.

In 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri declared Jihad against Jews and Crusaders because "for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples."

McCain believes that leaving Iraq will give Al Qaeda a propaganda victory, however he fails to recognize that an American occupation of Muslim lands has been Al Qaeda's central propaganda talking point for a decade.

To assert that we should not worry about the consequences of a long-term presence in Iraq displays an ignorance of the nature of Al Qaeda’s jihad against us. That John McCain asserts his superior understanding while displaying such ignorance is truly insulting to my intelligence and that of everyone who thinks the time is now for us to begin to bring our troops home.

This clip and a montage of his use of the word "surrender" should find their way into a nice attack ad highlighting his arrogance, ignorance and sue of scare tactics. By the way, just who are we surrendering to John? Al Qaeda in Iraq or Al Qaeda's p.r. guys? Who insults who John?

Michael, I think this comment is a bit dodgy, and fails to engage with the startling implicit claim McCain is making. And unless we do engage with that claim, Democrats are going to continue to have a muddled, incoherent message on Iraq. As I understand him, McCain believes the following:

1. So long as we can reduce and then eliminate casualties in Iraq, restore order and transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqis, then it would probably be a good thing to stay in Iraq indefinitely, even for as long as 100 years, just as we have been in Germany and Japan since the end of the Second World War.

2. So long as we can reduce and then eliminate casualties in Iraq, restore order and transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqis, then the American people would support our remaining in Iraq for as long as 100 years.

Now what you seem to be claiming is the following:

1. Improving security in Iraq will not entirely end the violence.

2. There is no short-term military solution to the war in Iraq.

3. The key to success in Iraq is moving forward with political reform.

4. If American troops are in Iraq 5 or 10 years from now, that a sign that the strategy we've undertaken has been a failure.

5. John McCain doesn't really seem to understand what victory in Iraq even means.

Now all of these are interesting and probably valid points. But I don't think they get to the heart of what McCain seems to be claiming. You are pointing out that the violence isn't close to ending, that we haven't made progress on the political front and that John McCain doesn't seem to know how to make that progress. Fine. But suppose we were close to the goals of pacification and political stabilization. What then? How many Americans would want to maintain a permanent military position in Iraq, indefinitely, for perhaps as long as a century, even under peaceful conditions? How many Americans support a general policy of expanding our military presence around the world? Do you support such a policy?

If we can't formulate a foreign policy position that includes an answer to this fundamental question about the aims of US foreign policy - expanded global military presence, status quo global military presence or contracted global military presence - then we are never going to be able to present a intellectually and morally integrated foreign policy to the public that they can trust and understand.

I think a lot of people responded to the McCain statement with a dumbfounded "Whaaat? 100 years?!" You are quibbling about the conditions that would be required to sustain such a presence, but dodging the big question about what US foreign policy should be trying to doi in the long run.

Italics now off.

Sorry. trying again.


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