Wednesday, April 09, 2008

McCain, "The 100 Years" Controversy, and Iraq

As I'm sure we've all heard by now, there has been much discussion (and distortion) over McCain's comments about who long American troops will remain in Iraq. The prevailing attitide that most war critics (and many sympathetic voices in the press) have towards McCain, is that he wants an unlimited commitment to Iraq, and is basically the same as George W. Bush. I am no Bush supporter, but I am for all intents and purposes a supporter of the Iraq war (come on, keep reading), and I respect McCain, not only because of his service, but for his history of standing up to Bush whwn it mattered. My point is, many have misinterpreted McCain's comments about staying in Iraq for a hundred years. Agree with him or not, it does no one any good to distort the record. McCain was essentially arguing that with regards to American public support for the war vis-a-vis progress in Iraq, most Americans aren't so much concerned with how long we're there, as much as they're concerned about our troops being killed or wounded. If things remain as they are now, fifty years from, heck even five years from now, naturally, that would affect public opinion.

The issue, McCain argues, is one of American casualties, nor American presence. We've had troops in Germany and Japan for over sixty years, in Korea for over fifty, and in Kuwait for over a decade. Most people aren't calling for us to pull troops out of Korea or Japan. Most people aren't calling for pullouts from Afghanistan, for that matter. Most people don't even think about our troop presence in Europe and Asia. I think that was McCain's point, agree or disagree.

The thing is though, there is an interesting discussion to be had, about the implications of a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq (assuming one believes that U.S. policy will ultimately settle on permanent bases), and how some argue that the issue is American presence. Andrew Sullivan offers this up:

My own view is that McCain's comment, in its most benign formulation, misses the key element here: Islam. One reader helpfully pointed out that occupied Japan also had a fiercely proud populace revolted by foreign troops. Sure: but it had been defeated as a unitary state and its Emperor (which we wisely retained) gave the occcupiers sanction. No such unitary state exists in Iraq; and Islam forbids the rule of infidels in its own heartlands - and Iraq has central religious importance for its various shrines and religious centers in the Muslim mind. Secularism has been in decline for a couple of decades. There is no way an Arab Muslim country will tolerate Western troops permanently based on their land - without constant war and threat of war. To believe otherwise is to engage in a "holiday from reality." We've done enough of that.

Sully's response has some problems. First off, while the Iraqi government is fragile and weak, it does in fact exist, and they have given us their consent, not to mention the U.N. mandate. The goal is ultimately to create a relatively stable society, and one key aspect of that is working out a formal framework regarding our troop presence. Secondly, we're not really running the country, as the Iraqi government (though fragile) is in place, and we are there as a support. Lastly, the question of Islam is important, but if the argument is going to be that an American presence in the Islamic world will ultimately lead to conflict, then the logical outgrowth of that argument is the view that we shouldn't confront terrorism at all, lest we run the risk of offending Muslims.

Call me naive, but I'd think we can confront terrorist threats in the Middle East, but allying ourselves with moderate forces who recognize terrorism as a common threat. It certainly doesn't always have to involve force, but sometimes force is neccessary. Just saying, is all.

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