Context We Can Believe In
by Josh Orton, Wed Jun 11, 2008 at 02:47:47 PM EDT
Let's go back to exactly what McCain said this morning on the Today Show:
Q: A lot of people now say the surge is working.
McCAIN: Anyone who knows the facts on the ground say that.
Q: If it's working, senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?
McCAIN: No, but that's not too important. What's important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea. Americans are in Japan. American troops are in Germany. That's all fine.
Right now, there are two bogus attempts to spin McCain's comments.
The first comes from McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann, who posits that McCain actually meant that having an estimate of when the troops come home is what McCain thinks isn't too important, not the larger issue of when the troops come home. Lieberman agreed, saying "the question was about an estimate." Either way, I'm not sure there's all that much daylight between this interpretation and the original take. When you're the President of the United States leading the military, isn't not having any estimate essentially just as bad? And anyway, we know from McCain's flippant "maybe a hundred" comment in the past that this spin is a dud - McCain has consistently tried to pretend our number of casualties is somehow largely divorced from how long we stay.
The second type of spin is almost worse. Marc Ambinder buys it wholesale. He complains:
Democrats and allies are jumping on John McCain for telling NBC's Matt Lauer that "it's not important" when troops return from Iraq. Period. There's no because. There's almost never a because when one side seizes on the comments of another. 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. Instead, though, in a conference call with reporters, in remarks by Democrats like Joe Biden, in a blistering statement by Rep. Rahm Emanuel, McCain is being portrayed as, inter alia, not caring one whit about casualties and deaths and chaos and certainly not about the families of troops who dealt with deployment after deployment.
This brings me back to the days when conservatives tried to argue that Social Security was in crisis. The press created a false equality, assuming that both Democratic and Republican positions on Social Security were subjective opinions with no real objective truths.
Now granted, Iraq isn't knowable like the Social Security trust fund estimates.
But Ambinder says "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."
Oddly, that's exactly what this is about, but some seem unwilling to accept that there is a large body of evidence supporting only one side of that argument - that how long we stay will, almost without question, be in at least some way tied to how many casualties we suffer. And therefore, it matters quite a great deal.
Hertzberg deconstructed this perfectly back in January:
McCain wants to stay in Iraq until no more Americans are getting killed, no matter how long it takes and how many Americans get killed achieving that goal--that is, the goal of not getting any more Americans killed. And once that goal is achieved, we'll stay.
Just because McCain says something is possible doesn't mean it is (see: Iraqi market, peaceful stroll through). If there's a known path from our current state in Iraq to peace without US casualties, I haven't heard it. And once you accept that a Japan or Korea-like presence is actually impossible in Iraq, the total disconnect McCain tries to create between how long we stay and how many casualties we suffer becomes illogical. And the criticism of it becomes perfectly in context.
Although then we'd lose our false equality, and one person would be right and the other wrong. And I suppose we can't have that.