Monday, April 07, 2008

McCain's 100 Years War and the bad, naughty, wicked Democrats who criticize him

I was inspired in the last few days to write a couple of e-mails to Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby taking partial issue with a couple of his more literal readings of news commentary. I was reminded of this by Marigold2's post on the bold Maverick defending his 100 Years War position against those nasty Democrats.

Bob "The Daily Howler" Somerby in his 03/27/08 post scolded unnamed culprits for reinventing, massaging and improving the Maverick's statement on staying in Iraq for 100 years. The original quote from which the 100 Years War line was taken goes this way (Somerby's version of 04/01/08):

QUESTION (1/3/08): President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years—

MCCAIN: Maybe a hundred. We've been in South Korea. We've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That'd be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. Then it's fine with me.
The Maverick defends his comment by pointing out, accurately, that he referred specifically to Americans staying there in conditions where they were "not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed".


This is the text of the e-mail I sent the Howler on that one:

Bob,

I'll take up your implied challenge when you wrote, "By the way: Some of you will now compose e-mails. You'll insist that McCain didnt say what he so plainly said, or that he plainly meant something different."

Now, I know you did not say it was a challenge. But I'm inferring that from my own experience and understanding of speech patterns in American English.

Which relates directly to your literalistic comment about McCain's now-famous, "Maybe a hundred" about the length of time he would be content seeing American troops stay in Iraq, followed immediately by his specifying that he meant, "as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed".

Here, I won't bother to interpret his remark. I'll stick to literalism. And in the literal words that came out of his mouth, he did not address how long he envisioned leaving American troops in Iraq if they are still "being injured or harmed or wounded or killed". Every quotation I've seen from him on the Iraq War leaves the time frame open-ended.

What he has not said is how many ones, or tens, or dozens of years he's willing to continue to have Americans "being injured or harmed or wounded or killed" in the Iraq War. One might interpret his statements as implying that would be something less than 100 years. But I haven't seen him quoted as saying that.

If you report that a Lexux/Nexus search turned up an occasion on which he specified some more specific time limit for continuing to have Americans "being injured or harmed or wounded or killed", I will stand corrected.
Somerby returned to the theme in his posts for 04/01/08 and 04/03/08. In the 04/01 post, he observes, in the process of verbally scourging Eugene Robinson for doing a similarly sloppy piece of reporting on the Maverick's statement:

It may well be Robinson's opinion that what McCain envisions will never occur. Robinson is hardly a foreign policy expert - and even experts lack crystal balls. But if Robinson thinks McCain is dreaming when he pictures an outcome like this, he is of course free to say so - and to explain his view.
Somerby is right that reporters and columnists - and even bloggers - should take care to be accurate in such things.

But in terms of using the "100 Years War" line against the Maverick, it's perfectly valid for the Dems or the netroots to do so. Because - for other Howler fans, this is my interpretation coming - McCain's use of the hundred-years line both then and in his defenses of it later, serves two purposes. One, for hardcore war fans, it lets them hear an in-your-face response to a war critic, with the Maverick saying it doesn't matter how long it takes to win it, you disgusting hippie, we'll fight for as long as it takes.

But by defending the line then and later by emphasizing he meant that only in a situation where Americans weren't being hurt, he ducks the question of how long he's willing to see the fighting go on. Instead, he and his fans can whine that his in-your-face response is being misquoted by those liberal meanies, another example of the "Liberals are liars! Liberals are liars!" phenomenon.

In fact, the Maverick insists on leaving the question of a time frame entirely open. Since our Savior-General Petraeus who the Maverick adores and supports has said counterinsurgency wars can easily go for 10 years or longer, voters can legitimately conclude from his vague insistence on Victory that the Maverick wants an open-ended commitment. Especially when he's tossing around dates like 100 years, 1000 years, 10,000 years, and so on. Yes, even though he tosses the alibi qualifiers in.

This is the letter that appeared in the 04/03/08 San Francisco Chronicle (scroll down), defending the Maverick on that comment:

McCain's words in context

Editor - I read almost daily in The Chronicle claims that Sen. John Mc Cain wants us to remain in Iraq for 100 years. The latest is by letter writer Fernando Feliciano (April 2).

The 100-year quote by Mc Cain is only half of what Mc Cain said and this quote is being taken completely out of context.

Here is the full quote by McCain:

Question: "President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years ..."(cut off by McCain).

McCain: "Make it a hundred. We've been in South Korea ... we've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea 50 years or so. That would be fine with me. As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. It's fine with me and I hope that would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world."

McCain clearly means that our long-term presence in Iraq would be as a policing, peacekeeping force such as the United Nations, not as an active, fighting, military presence.

This is a completely different meaning than the spin the Democrats and liberals are putting on his partial quote.

I think it is a cheap shot.

NANCY DEUSSEN Palo Alto
The incomparable Daily Howler would presumably observe that the letter-writer also does a bit of mind-reading on the statement herself when she says that what the Maverick meant was "that our long-term presence in Iraq would be as a policing, peacekeeping force such as the United Nations".

But Dems and the peace movement should not let the Maverick get away with this dodge. His Iraq War plan so far represents open-ended war. We need to remind as many people as we can that such is the case. "100 Years War" is a vivid and appropriate image for that.

Juan Cole in Rich, McCain, and the Coming Heartbreak Ridge Informed Comment blog 04/07/08 discusses McCain's comment and the debate that has developed over them. Among other things, Cole looks at what it might mean if we take McCain's Korea analogy seriously. Making policy by bad historical analogy is one of the biggest plagues that affects American foreign policy and has for a long time.

The Republicans are trying to make a case of "Liberals are liars! Liberals are liars!" We shouldn't forget some important points in connection with the 100 Years War concept:

McCain has never specified any projected time line for the end of fighting in Iraq. Petraeus' own position on counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare says that a major COIN effort could take 10 years or more of active fighting. Does McCain think we're in the middle of 10 years war?

The Maverick does not acknowledge that the involvement of the United States in protracted warfare is itself a major problem and risk.

The Straight Talker's expressed position on the Iraq War does not spell out any strategy other than continuing the approach we're currently following.

The bold Maverick now says that we are "no longer staring into the abyss of defeat" in the Iraq War. Will he have any "straight talk" to offer to his fellow Republicans who have called critics who pointed out just such a thing happening in the past defeatists, unpatriotic, even traitors? Shouldn't McCain "distance himself" from those Republicans by name, no, denounce their wicked slanders? (Obama shouldn't be the only one apologizing for and denouncing his own supporters.) Come to think of it, did you ever hear the Maverick himself say that we were "staring into the abyss of defeat" at whatever time he now says such a thing was happening? Me neither.

McCain's 100 Years War (or was it not-war?) comment seemed to assume that permanent US bases in Iraq are a given. This has been a controversial proposition, here and abroad - not least in the Middle East - from the start. The pursuit of permanent bases is in itself a major factor that could prolong the already-prolonged combat in Iraq.

Finally, Juan Cole is more generous than I would be to Frank Rich's column Tet Happened, and No One Cared New York Times 04/06/08. In fact, this supposedly stalwart liberal writer opens his column with these two paragraphs:

REALLY, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should be ashamed of themselves for libeling John McCain. As a growing chorus reiterates, their refrains that Mr. McCain is "willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq" (as Mr. Obama said) or "willing to keep this war going for 100 years" (per Mrs. Clinton) are flat-out wrong.

What Mr. McCain actually said in a New Hampshire town-hall meeting was that he could imagine a 100-year-long American role in Iraq like our long-term presence in South Korea and Japan, where "Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed." See for yourself on YouTube.
Yes, Rich clucks about McCain's deficiencies on the Iraq War, proving that they are so glaring even a Big Pundit can notice them. But what really, really, really bugs him are Vile Hillary and Libelous Obama criticizing St. McCain over his 100 Years War crack. Does Frank Rich give a flying [Cheney] if the fighting in Iraq goes on for 100 years or not? I seriously doubt it.

And the great Straight Talker is certainly not "the crazed militarist portrayed by Democrats", Rich assures us. Now, I certainly hope there are Democrats out there calling our Greatest Living Saint (next to Savior-General Petraeus) a militarist, because I sure have been. I can't recall hearing Obama, Clinton or any member of Congress call him a militarist, though. Even I haven't called him a "crazed" militarist, though I'll probably be calling him worse at some point. Is "warmonger" worse than "crazed militarist"? I'm sure an above-the-fray sage like Frank Rich would disapprove of both.

I wish we did have to worry about the Democrats having so much fight in them that they risked going overboard in their furious criticism of the bold Maverick. Hey, I'll sign up to be one of the ones ringing alarm bells when an excess of Jacksonian democracy starts becoming an urgent political problem for the Democratic Party.

Rich's column is just full of groaners:

So far his bizarre pronouncements have been drowned out by the Democrats’ din.
Oh, I see, Rich is watching the Presidential race in one of those alternative universes where a reincarnated Andrew Jackson is the leader of the Democratic Party.

Iraq’s sects have remained at each other’s throats since their country was carved out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
Um, not so much. As Patrick Cockburn explains in his new book Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq, tensions between the Iraqi Shi'a and the Sunnis were dramatically increased by the Baathist coup in 1968 and even more radically by the aftermath of Old Man Bush's Gulf War of 1991.

The electorate doesn’t want to hear much anyway about a war it long ago soundly rejected.
Big Pundits routinely assume that their own heads reflect the majority opinions of the public. Actually the public remains very interested in and concerned about the Iraq War. But our compliant corporate media has insisted on de-emphasizing coverage of the Iraq War, which I first naively thought was the point of Rich's column's headline. But it's against Big Pundit law to say that its the Establishment press like the New York Times that have decided to shirk their responsibility of covering the war even more than they have in the conflict's earlier years.

But while Rich's own mind reflects the majority opinion, we shouldn't forget that Big Pundits rise above the pettiness of the dirty masses:

For the majority of Americans who haven’t met any of the brave troops who’ve been cavalierly tossed into the quagmire, the war is out of sight and mind in a way Vietnam never was. Only 28 percent of Americans knew American casualties in Iraq were nearing 4,000 last month, according to the Pew Research Center. The Project for Excellence in Journalism found that by March 2008 the percentage of prominent news stories that were about Iraq had fallen to about one-fifth of what it was in January 2007. It’s a poignant commentary on the whole war that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the nonpartisan advocacy group, was reduced to protesting the lack of coverage.

That’s why it’s no surprise that so few stopped to absorb the disastrous six-day battle of Basra that ended last week — a mini-Tet that belied the “success” of the surge. Even fewer noticed that the presumptive Republican nominee seemed at least as oblivious to what was going down as President Bush, no tiny feat. (my emphasis)
That "lack of coverage" that a veterans group found the need to poignantly protest is due to the lazy, out-of-touch public, you see, not to our train-wreck of a press corps.

After shoveling this kind of hooey for the first half or so of his column, then he gets down to criticizing the Maverick for his crazed militarist sadly mistaken Maverick views on the Iraq War. Given the sloppiness of the first part of the column, even I wouldn't rely on his accounts of what the Straight Talker actually said.

By the way, consistency is the hobgoblin of lesser minds than those of Big Pundits. After scolding those wicked Democrats for their rude, nasty, extremist language against St. McCain, he writes of the Maverick's unimpressive policies of continuing the Iraq War indefinitely, "As the old saying goes, doing the same thing over and over again and hoping you’ll get a different result is the definition of insanity."

Oh, I get it! It's horrible and naughty and stuff to call the Maverick "crazed" but okay to suggest he suffers from "insanity". Of course, there's a huge difference between the two. At least in that alternative reality where Frank Rich is observing the Presidential race.

But let's not forget, what's really, realy bad and horrible and a world-historical shame for American democracy are those wicked Democrats, Vile Hillary and Libelous Obama, who are so out of control as to criticize the bold Maverick in ways not pre-approved by Frank Rich:

The Democrats should also stop repeating their 100-years-war calumny against Mr. McCain. There’s too much at stake for America for them to add their own petty distortions to an epic tragedy that only a long-overdue national reckoning with hard truths can bring to an end. (my emphasis)
How did we wind up in the Iraq War, the worst strategic disaster in American history? How did we wind up with the Cheney-Bush administration, the worst Presidency in American history? We couldn't have done without the immense assistance of our corporate press corps.

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