“When candidate John McCain argued in 2007 that we should remain in Iraq for 100 years, I blanched and wondered what the unintended consequences of prolonged occupation would be. But McCain’s call for a hundred year occupation does capture some truth: that the West is in for a long, irregular confrontation not with terrorism, which is simply a tactic, but with Radical Islam.”
— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), speech at the Heritage Foundation, Feb. 6, 2013
What did John McCain say about Iraq — and when did he say it?
Our predecessor as The Fact Checker had to contend with incorrect Democratic claims that McCain wanted to fight a 100-year war in Iraq. But now McCain’s Republican colleague in the Senate has also misquoted him.
Let’s relive this bit of ancient history — which took place in 2008, not 2007, as Paul stated.
During a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., McCain, then vying for the Republican presidential nomination, got in a long exchange with a questioner who wanted to know how long the United States would remain in Iraq. We have the full exchange below, followed by a partial transcript.
QUESTIONER:” I want to know how long are we going to be there?”
MCCAIN: “How long do you want us to be in South Korea? How long do you want to be in Bosnia?”
QUESTIONER: “There's no fighting going on in South Korea. Let's not talk about South Korea. Let's come back to Iraq.”
MCCAIN: Thank you sir, and I can look you in the eye and tell you that those casualties tragically continue as I made very clear in my opening remarks. ….”
QUESTIONER: “President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years --- “
MCCAIN: “Maybe a hundred. 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'd be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. Then it'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, equipping and motivating people every single day.”
In other words, McCain was talking about a continued presence in Iraq, not an occupation.
In fact, it’s pretty clear from the exchange that McCain is making a flippant remark, possibly because he was getting irritated with the questioner. Just a few weeks earlier, on the “Charlie Rose” show, he had rejected the idea of a 20-25 year presence in Iraq along the lines of South Korea.
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.”
In any case, a military “presence” — a word McCain used in both settings — is entirely different than an occupation, which McCain aides made clear at the time. Yet Paul, in his speech, referred to it as a “prolonged occupation.”
As The Fact Checker noted five years ago, “An occupation carries a connotation of rule by the occupying power, and lack of full sovereignty on the part of the occupied. The formal U.S. military occupation of Germany ended in 1949, even though U.S. troops remained in the country.”
Incidentally, White House spokesman Jay Carney just last Friday also made reference to this McCain statement. But he simply said, “At the time in 2008, as I recall, Senator McCain suggested we might have troops in Iraq for 100 years.” That’s an appropriate way to refer to that remark.
Paul spokeswoman Moira Bagley did not respond to a request for comment.
The Pinocchio Test
McCain’s words may have been impolitic, but there’s no reason why they still need to be twisted for rhetorical purposes. Just as McCain’s Democratic opponents were wrong to suggest McCain wanted to wage a 100-year war, Paul is wrong to claim that he “argued” on behalf of a 100-year “occupation.”
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