As I wrote yesterday, I think the anger among McCain supporters over McCain’s “it’s not too important when the troops come home” gaffe is less about McCain’s statement being taken out of context, and more about people no longer interpreting McCain’s incoherent answers in the most charitable way possible.
This is not true of MNBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Lee Cowan, however, who begin their segment yesterday by throwing a block down for McCain. Watch it:
Marc Ambinder also had this odd defense of McCain against unfavorable interpretations of his remark:
The context makes it clear that McCain is reiterating his position that the presence of troops isn’t the issue; instead, it’s the casualties they receive. The differences between McCain and Obama are clear enough; Obama wants a bare-bones U.S. presence in Iraq, and McCain is willing to tolerate a much larger one; Obama believes that the presence of U.S. troops exacerbates the tension and gives Iraqis a crutch to delay political reconcilliation. McCain does not. One would think that those differences are a sufficient basis upon which to launch a political attack.
Leaving aside why Ambinder feels the need to certify this or that difference as a “sufficient basis” for political attacks, I would argue that McCain’s dismissive attitude about when the troops come home from Iraq is obviously fair game. Most Americans want the troops drawn down within one to two years; McCain wants them to stay in Iraq until he feels that “victory” has been achieved, which is just a cut-rate Churchillian way of saying that he wants them to stay indefinitely.
Whether McCain personally appreciates the troops’ sacrifice isn’t particularly relevant. What is relevant is that McCain’s policies would require the troops and their families and communities to sacrifice more and more and more, until some unknown time when the disastrous decision to invade Iraq is judged to have been sufficiently redeemed, and the reputations of its architects and advocates rehabilitated.
Also, given how McCain strains to put the best possible face on the lack of Iraqi political progress, it’s interesting that he chooses to ignore the very impressive and diverse Iraqi political coalition that has recently coalesced — around the idea of getting the U.S. out of Iraq.
McCain and assorted flacks suggest that, since Al Qaeda wants us to leave Iraq — a questionable assertion, given that keeping the U.S. in Iraq in order to bleed its resources is one of AQ’s stated goals — we must therefore stay, lest the terrorists win, the terrorists apparently being defined as everyone who wants us to leave Iraq.
This is the catch-22 of the U.S. presence in Iraq: For that presence to be legal and legitimate, it must be it must be under an agreement by the Iraqi government. But it is extremely unlikely that any Iraqi government that agrees to an extended U.S. presence — especially on the terms the U.S. is currently demanding — will be viewed as legitimate by the Iraqi people. And around and around we go.