A Century-Long War? Not Exactly.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The charge that Republican Sen. John McCain wants the Iraq conflict to become a "100-year war" has become a recurring theme in Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign. The Democrat has made the claim several times on the campaign trail, as has Susan Rice, one of his top foreign policy advisers. McCain has never talked about wanting a 100-year war in Iraq. But he has talked about a prolonged U.S. military presence there, similar to the stationing of U.S. troops in Germany after World War II or in South Korea after the Korean War.


Take a look at what McCain actually said in Derry, N.H., in January. Cutting off a questioner who talked about the Bush administration's willingness to keep troops in Iraq for 50 years, the Republican senator said: "Make it a hundred." He then mentioned that U.S. troops have been in Germany for 60 years and in South Korea for 50 years, and added, "That's fine with me, as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed."

Democrats seized on McCain's remarks. At one time or another, both Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton have said that the presumptive Republican nominee is willing to fight a 100-year war in Iraq. When challenged about this assertion on Monday, Obama referred journalists to the YouTube version of the Derry meeting. But the YouTube clip does not back up his case.

Whether the conflict is winnable is a separate question. But there is a difference between fighting a war and occupying a country. World War II lasted nearly six years (3 1/2 years in the case of the United States), but a significant U.S. troop presence still remains in Germany.

McCain has also not been entirely consistent about his thoughts on a long-term U.S. military occupation of Iraq. Interviewed on "The Charlie Rose Show" last November, he rejected the Korea/Germany analogy:

ROSE: Do you think that this -- Korea, South Korea -- is an analogy of where Iraq might be, not in terms of their economic success but in terms of an American presence over the next, say, 20, 25 years, that we will have a significant amount of troops there?

McCAIN: I don't think so.

ROSE: Even if there are no casualties?

McCAIN: No. But I can see an American presence for a while. But eventually I think because of the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects of it that America eventually withdraws.


A more honest line of attack for the Democrats would be against McCain's support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, whether he has a clear strategy for winning the war, and against the feasibility of a long-term U.S. occupation of a Muslim country. Instead of attacking him on these grounds, they have twisted his words by claiming that he "wants" to fight a 100-year war.

ONE PINOCCHIO: Some shading of the facts.

TWO PINOCCHIOS: Significant omissions or exaggerations.

THREE PINOCCHIOS: Significant factual errors.

FOUR PINOCCHIOS: Real whoppers.

THE GEPPETTO CHECK MARK: Statements and claims contain the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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