24 jul. 2008

McCain was against a long-term presence in Iraq before he was for it (more than once)


John McCain’s stated position, repeated over and over again throughout the campaign, is that he’s willing to leave U.S. troops in Iraq up to a century, so long as we’re not taking major casualties. He compares this to a presence along the lines of U.S. troops who remain in Korea a half-century after the war there.
There’s no shortage of problems associated with such an approach. First, it’s based on truly ridiculous assumptions. Second, it wouldn’t work. And third, as Sam Stein reminds us, McCain has frequently disagreed with his own vision.
Three years before the Arizona Republican argued on the campaign trail that U.S. forces could be in Iraq for 100 years in the absence of violence, he decried the very concept of a long-term troop presence.
In fact, when asked specifically if he thought the U.S. military should set up shop in Iraq along the lines of what has been established in post-WWII Germany or Japan — something McCain has repeatedly advocated during the campaign — the senator offered nothing short of a categorical “no.”
“I would hope that we could bring them all home,” he said on MSNBC. “I would hope that we would probably leave some military advisers, as we have in other countries, to help them with their training and equipment and that kind of stuff.”
Host Chris Matthews pressed McCain on the issue. “You’ve heard the ideological argument to keep U.S. forces in the Middle East. I’ve heard it from the hawks. They say, keep United States military presence in the Middle East, like we have with the 7th Fleet in Asia. We have the German…the South Korean component. Do you think we could get along without it?”
McCain held fast, rejecting the very policy he urges today. “I not only think we could get along without it, but I think one of our big problems has been the fact that many Iraqis resent American military presence,” he responded. “And I don’t pretend to know exactly Iraqi public opinion. But as soon as we can reduce our visibility as much as possible, the better I think it is going to be.”
Keep in mind, McCain 2008 believes those of us who agree with McCain 2005 are terrorist-sympathizing defeatists.
I’d just add that the “evolution” of McCain’s thinking on a permanent U.S. troop presence in Iraq has taken a surprising number of twists and turns.

Consider:
* In 2005, McCain decided Iraqis resent our military presence, so we should reject a Korea-like model for long-term troop deployment. He insisted that “U.S. ‘visibility’ was detrimental to the Iraq mission and that Iraqis were responding negatively to America’s presence — positions held by both Obama and Clinton.”
* In 2006, McCain reversed course, and embraced the Korea model for a long-term military presence.
* In 2007, McCain reversed course again, saying the Korean analogy doesn’t work and shouldn’t be followed. “[E]ventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws,” McCain told Charlie Rose last fall.
* And in 2008, McCain reversed course yet again, deciding that we should be prepared to leave troops in Iraq, even if it means 100 years or more.
At each step, McCain was not only convinced that he was absolutely right, but dismissed anyone who dared to disagree with him as uninformed and unreliable.
Now, I should clarify that the point here is not just to embarrass McCain by exposing a spectacular series of flip-flops. Rather, the point is to highlight the fact that McCain apparently doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. He does 180-degree turns without explanation, and then insists that he’s been consistent the entire time.
Noting McCain’s wholesale reversals on tax policies over the last 10 years, Josh Marshall mentioned the other day:
Genuine political and ideological transformations are pretty rare in contemporary American politics. Two in a row in less than a decade is close to unprecedented. McCain went from conservative Republican, to embracing many core Democratic policy positions and actively discussing a possible party switch, to cycling back and re-embracing the same policies.
What’s gotten the most attention is McCain’s position on taxes — the same Bush tax cuts that he said earlier in the decade “offend[ed] his conscience”, he now says must be made permanent and added on to by another round of tax cuts on the Bush model. This can be reduced down to cheap charges of ‘flip-flopping’ or expediency. But it actually goes a lot deeper than that. McCain is absolutely gung-ho and certain that he’s right about whatever his position and ‘principles’ are at the given moment. But they change repeatedly.
On taxes, McCain changed his mind four times in 10 years. On long-term troop presence in Iraq, McCain changed his mind four times in four years.
Remind us again, campaign reporters, about McCain’s “consistency” and “straight talk.”