In a moment he may regret, John McCain did something dangerous for a politician. He spoke the truth. He said we might have to continue a presence in Iraq for 100 years. While honest, thoughtful, historically informed observers would concur with McCain, that rules out the Democrats, who saw a political opportunity and struck.
Howard Dean, leader of the party, did a virtual encore of his famous Iowa howl, so upset was he with the idea. And then the thundering herd of Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and their underlings were soon trampling on every scrap and speck of common sense in the way of demented denouncements.
They deceptively made it sound as if the McCain purpose was ongoing, deadly and very expensive combat when, as he explicitly explained at the time, he was talking about the sort of thing the U.S. military has been doing for the 60 years since World War II, hanging around without troop losses in Europe and Japan to make sure hard-won, peaceful stability was not undone by the multitudinous forces that could lead to new national-security threats.
Through the better part of those 60 years, the Democrats have been in a position to bring the troops home, and have chosen not to, one assumes, because they have understood the chance of unfortunate, even catastrophic consequence. If they are suddenly and sincerely blind to those kinds of risks in the ever-turbulent Middle East, they are little more to be trusted with our destiny than children.
McCain is not a warmonger. He has been there. He has seen it. He has been under fire and tortured in a POW camp, and has not had to make up stories like Hillary Clinton, who was once in a Bosnia war zone and — do I have this right? — had to dodge bullets, bombs, rocks, bricks, dynamite, spitballs, arrows, spears, nuclear blasts and laser fire, apparently from UFOs that were also casting evil spells.
Sorry, I think I got it wrong, but so did she, and the point of noting her wild exaggeration on this particular is that it highlights her exaggeration about her vast experience generally. It is not vast. It amounts to very little. There may be one person among this past year’s crowd of presidential aspirants with less experience than her. That would be Obama.
Neither of them comes close to the experience of McCain, who advocated the so-called Iraqi surge, a strategy that has been working despite preposterous denials of those impatient for a wholesale, unconditional withdrawal. What that plan could mean, for starters, is genocide and use of Iraq as a launching pad for new terrorist strikes.
McCain, too, had a recent gaffe. While in Iraq, he spoke of Iran sending al Qaeda fighters Iraq’s way, when what he meant were other terrorists. But this was a momentary lapse of the kind we all have, a slip of the tongue he immediately corrected, not an oft-repeated tall tale. Even his critics somewhere deep down have to know this is no big deal. They themselves say his worst error in judgment was to support the war to begin with, and we now know that Saddam Hussein was no huge threat, right?
Wrong. We instead know from the recent report of a government-sponsored research organization that Saddam had close links to terrorist groups and we know from a “60 Minutes” interview with an FBI agent that Saddam was looking to reconstitute his WMD program. We know he was a maniacally ambitious man responsible for some 300,000 deaths in his own land, and carefully observant people know something else, too — that owing to this war, there is now the prospect of something profoundly transformative in the Middle East, something that could reduce and ultimately even remove the danger of a protracted, city-obliterating, civilization-endangering conflict with Islamic fascists.
While such an achievement is far from certain, its very real possibility could evaporate into little more than mist if we followed the Clinton-Obama prescription for reckless retreat. We could thus quite easily erase significant gains made at the cost of 4,000 American lives, and it’s not as if meaningful troop reductions won’t be coming our way because of the McCain-advised surge strategy, with, perhaps, some protective forces left behind. There is no need for a scurry strategy, which could give us 100 years of horror.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)