Saturday, August 2, 2008

Democrats and Media Distort McCain's 100 Years in Iraq Comment

For months now, members of the media and the Democratic Party have been distorting comments made by Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain (AZ) regarding how long U.S. troops should remain in Iraq.

At a town hall meeting on January 3, 2008, McCain had this exchange:

Questioner at town hall: "President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years."
McCain: "Maybe 100. 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 would be fine with me, as long as Americans are not being injured, or harmed, or wounded or killed. That's fine with me. I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaeda is training, recruiting, and equipping and motivating people every single day."
* YouTube: McCain: 100 years in Iraq "would be fine with me"

Since then, McCain has been misrepresented as saying that the U.S. should be content to wage a 100-year war in Iraq. The following are examples, listed chronologically:

"On the war, McCain scoffed at Bush's call to leave troops in Iraq for 50 years, saying 'Make it a hundred!' ... We can't afford four more years with a President who fights an endless war in Iraq."
-- Fundraising letter (received in or before February 2008) from former Vermont governor Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
* Transcript of letter.

"[Republicans] see five years in Iraq and say, 'Why not 100 more?'"
-- Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), February 5, 2008.
* The Civil Debate Page: Highlights from the Presidential Primaries, February 17, 2008.
* NYTimes: Hillary Clinton's Feb. 5 Speech.

"Senator McCain said the other day that we might be mired for a hundred years in Iraq, which is reason enough to not give him four years in the White House."
-- Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), February 12, 2008.
* The Civil Debate Page: Highlights from the Presidential Primaries, February 17, 2008.
* NYTimes: Barack Obama's Feb. 12 Speech.

"Just like President Bush, McCain's strategy is a war without end. The choice in this election couldn't be more clear: elect John McCain and get 100 years in Iraq, or elect a Democrat to bring our troops home."
-- Howard Dean, February 14, 2008.
* DNC: Dean: How Long Will John McCain Keep Our Troops in Iraq?

"I revere and honor John McCain's service to this country. He is a genuine American hero. But when he embraces George Bush's failed economic policies, when he says that he is willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq, then he represents the policies of yesterday."
-- Barack Obama, February 19, 2008.
* NYTimes: Barack Obama's Feb. 19 Speech.

"Al Qaeda is stronger than anytime since 2001 according to our own intelligence estimates, and we are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests might go on for another 100 years, spending $12 billion a month that could be invested in the kinds of programs that both Senator Clinton and I are talking about."
-- Barack Obama, February 26, 2008.
* The Civil Debate Page: Highlights from the February 21 and 26 Democratic Debates, February 29, 2008.
* Real Clear Politics: The Ohio Democratic Debate.
* NYTimes: The Democratic Debate in Cleveland.

"What date between now and the election in November will he drop this promise of a 100 year war in Iraq?"
-- Chris Matthews, MSNBC anchor, March 4, 2008.
* MSNBC: Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island, and Vermont Primaries Coverage for March 4, 6:00 - 2:00 a.m. ET.

"John McCain is telling us this is an important job, that we need to stay there, that we need to win even if it takes 100 years."
-- Rick Sanchez, CNN anchor, March 16, 2008.
* CNN Newsroom, March 16, 2008, transcript.

"One choice in this election is Senator McCain. He's willing to keep this war going for 100 years ... You can count on him to do that."
-- Hillary Clinton, March 17, 2008.
* Cox News Service: Clinton Makes Assertions on Iraq Five Years after War's Start.

"What I said was I would have a strike force in the region, perhaps in Iraq, perhaps outside Iraq so we could take advantage of or we could deal with potential problems that might take place in the region ... That's very different from saying we'd have a permanent occupation in Iraq. And it's certainly different from saying we would have a high level of combat troops inside Iraq for a decade or two decades or, as John McCain said, perhaps 100 years."
-- Barack Obama, March 31, 2008.
* Fox News: McCain, Obama Spar Over Spending '100 Years' in Iraq.

Questioner at town hall: "President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years."
McCain: "Maybe 100. That would be fine with me."
Text: (superimposed on scenes of violence and destruction in Iraq) "5 years. $500 billion. Over 4,000 dead."
Questioner at town hall: "President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years."
McCain: "Maybe 100."
Narrator: (over a picture of McCain with President Bush) "If all he offers is more of the same, is John McCain the right choice for America's future? The Democratic National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertisement."

-- Democratic National Committee ad, aired in or before April 2008.
* YouTube: "100".

Meredith Vieira, NBC anchor: "Senator, both you and Senator Clinton have said Senator McCain favors 100 more years of war in Iraq. On Sunday in The New York Times, Frank Rich wrote, 'Really, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should be ashamed of themselves for libeling John McCain.' That in fact he never said he wanted a 100 more years of war, he just felt American troops should be a long-term presence, the way they are in Japan and South Korea. So are you willing to admit that you've distorted his statements?"
Obama: "No. That's just not accurate, Meredith. We can pull up the quotes on Youtube. What John McCain was saying was, that he was happy to have a potential long-term occupation in Iraq. Happy may be overstating it -- he is willing to have a long-term occupation of Iraq, as long as 100 years, in fact he said 10,000 years, however long it took."

-- Barack Obama, April 8, 2008.
* MSNBC: First Read: The '100-year' war continues...
* YouTube: Barack Obama Continues His 100 Years Of War Attack.

Chris Wallace, Fox News anchor: Governor, why are you distorting what McCain actually said?
Dean: Well, I'm not. I actually have what he actually said. … I've said publicly that John McCain said that he wants to keep our troops in Iraq for up to 100 years. He himself said that some of that could be occupation like South Korea or Germany. But the fact of the matter is, first, that anybody who thinks that we can keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years without them being victimized by roadside bombs, suicide bombers and militias I think is wrong and needs their judgment -- to look carefully at their judgment.
Dean: What John McCain said is his plan is -- to deal with Iraq is to stay there maybe for 100 years, whether it's an occupational force or whatever the force is. ... John McCain wants to stay in Iraq.
Dean: The fact of the matter is he began and ended his clip by saying he's willing to stay in Iraq for 100 years.
Dean: I don't think our ads misrepresent anything.

-- Howard Dean, May 4, 2008.
* Fox News: Transcript: Howard Dean on 'FOX News Sunday'.

"John has said we'll stay there for 100 years if necessary. I think if he says that he doesn't understand."
-- Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.), July 1, 2008.
* CNN: The Situation Room, July 1, 2008, Transcript.

Of all these statements, Wesley Clark's and Rick Sanchez's are the least objectionable. Though their use of the terms "need to win" and "if necessary" seem to hint at it, they don't clearly say McCain favors 100 years of military action and combat in Iraq. McCain, of course, straightforwardly ruled out that possibility with his "as long as Americans are not being injured, or harmed, or wounded or killed" caveat.

Chris Matthews, however, is guilty of distorting McCain's comments by saying McCain made a "promise of a 100 year war in Iraq". McCain did no such thing.

Hillary Clinton is on par with Matthews on this issue. It's simply false for her to say that McCain wants to have 100 more years of the violence that's taken place in Iraq over the past five years, or that he is "willing to keep this war going for 100 years".

As for Howard Dean, it's an outright distortion for him to say that McCain seeks an "endless war" in Iraq, that his strategy "is a war without end". McCain never even said he wanted a 100 year presence in Iraq, only that he would be OK with it if it were peaceful and served the interests of the U.S. and regional security. The ad put out by the DNC -- of which Dean is the chairman -- is wrong when it depicts McCain as endorsing U.S. participation in 100 more years of violence and destruction in Iraq.

Dean seems to backtrack a bit as time goes on: in the Fox News interview, he allows that McCain was proposing a deployment in Iraq "like South Korea or Germany", but he says that McCain is wrong to think that such a peaceful deployment is possible. Dean insists that any U.S. troops in Iraq will undoubtedly wind up involved in violence.

Despite this change in criticism, Dean still doesn't take responsibility for or retract his previous statements as having been a misrepresentation of McCain's comments. And he insists that "I don't think our ads misrepresent anything", which is flat out wrong.

Moreover, Dean doesn't provide any reason for thinking that there couldn't be a long-term, peaceful deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq as there has been in such places as Japan, South Korea, Germany, Britain, Italy, and Kuwait. Nor does he spell out why the violence involved in such a deployment would be at the same level as the violence in Iraq over the past five years, as opposed to the (much lower) level of violence involved in the U.S. deployment in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Dean describes any presence along the lines that McCain proposes as an "occupation", which is a questionable characterization: Does Dean think that the U.S. presence in Japan, South Korea, Germany, Britain, Italy, and Kuwait amounts to an occupation of those countries?

Barack Obama -- who will face McCain in the November 2008 presidential election -- is also guilty of an outright distortion regarding McCain's comments. McCain never said he was "willing to send our troops into another 100 years of war in Iraq". McCain's comments ruled out the prospect of U.S. forces being "bogged down" or "mired for a hundred years in Iraq". And McCain never said that the Iraq war "might go on for another 100 years" (at least not the U.S.'s participation in it).

McCain may have allowed that there could be "a high level of combat troops inside Iraq for a decade or two decades or ... perhaps 100 years", but -- as McCain made very clear -- that was only on the condition that they wouldn't see much combat.

Like Dean, Obama also describes McCain's scenario for a 100 year deployment in Iraq (along the same lines as in Japan or South Korea) as "a long-term occupation of Iraq". Again, does Obama think the U.S. is occupying Japan or South Korea in any negative sense of the term "occupation"?

The Iraq War is a very complicated issue, and reasonable people can disagree about how it should be resolved and what stance the U.S. should take in Iraq over the following days, years, and decades. But McCain made it very clear that he would accept a 100 year presence in Iraq only so long as it was peaceful -- peaceful in a way that the U.S. deployments in Japan and South Korea have been for decades.

It is wrong for Obama, Dean, Clinton, Matthews, Sanchez and Clark to try to encourage people to believe the worst about McCain's Iraq policy by distorting his words.

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