McCain Told Me 100 Years

I am McCain's "Ernest Hemingway"

I was the questioner at the January 3 Town Hall Meeting in Derry, NH, who McCain called Ernest Hemingway and who asked him what he hoped to accomplish in Iraq and how long it would take. When I pressed him for a time frame and cited George Bush's figure of fifty years, Senator McCain shocked me by saying "Maybe a hundred".

Since that time his remark has been repeated thousands of times in the press, on political talk shows, by columnists, commentators, and by the Democratic candidates. There are music videos commemorating his words, and you can buy T-Shirts displaying the quote.

Needless to say, Democrats have had a field day with that sound bite. I'm wondering, where's my cut?

Now, three months later, McCain partisans are regretting the candor of their candidate, and in a full-court press, are claiming that McCain's opponents have mischaracterized his remarks.

In Check Point: McCain Said '100'; Opponents Latch On, Kate Phillips reported in the March 27 New York Times that McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt complains that, "There is a deliberate misrepresentation of the statement" by Clinton, Obama, and the DNC.

In Foes target McCain's 100-year war remark, Brian C. Mooney wrote April 2 in the Boston Globe that "McCain and Republicans say that [Senator Barack] Obama is trying to 'swindle voters' with 'dishonest smears'."

Charles Krauthammer, in his March 28 column, went much further, and declared hysterically, "It's seldom that you see such a dirty lie." One has to wonder what planet he's been on these last seven years!

Now the Manchester Union-Leader has joined the chorus with its Sunday, April 6 editorial, McCain's '100 Years': the Democrat's war on the truth.

While splitting hairs over the meaning of campaign rhetoric, all ignore the fact that McCain advocates an open-ended presence in Iraq, and the consequences that would follow from such a commitment.

McCain's words left little room for interpretation. By saying that he was fine with staying in Iraq for 100 years, he made clear his commitment to staying the course and, further, to remaining in Iraq for years after the country is pacified, assuming that's ever possible.

Everyone who was there that night got it: we weren't getting out anytime soon.

Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker summed it up when he wrote, "what the context shows, I think, is that yanking that sound bite out of context isn't really all that unfair. 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."

When offered the opportunity to backtrack later, McCain only dug himself in deeper, upping the ante to 10,000 years, or a million. He may as well have said "forever" when he confirmed his 100 years remark and added that he would support permanent bases in Iraq three days later on NBC's Meet the Press.

Not content to confine the endless war to Iraq, McCain went on to warn of other wars. Speaking to Tim Russert he asked, "What if Jordan falls? What if there's another war with Israel?" He also singled out the instability in Pakistan. Though he did not mention it by name, one can imagine that Iran figures in his thoughts.

McCain has stated his belief that "the war will be over soon", and that the Iraqi government and military will handle the ongoing insurgency. Given the current fighting in Iraq and the ineffectiveness of the Al Maliki government's military, this seems highly unrealistic.

McCain's comments to me raise more questions than they answer. If U.S. troops are garrisoned on permanent bases in Iraq, wouldn't it be likely that they would come under attack? And when they do, would we depend upon the Iraqi government to protect us? Of course not! How would that be different from the situation we face today?

If McCain's campaign now wants a do-over on the 100 years remark, then here is his shot. How long would he keep our troops in Iraq? Both of his opponents have offered specific exit plans. Where is McCain's?

I like John McCain. I commend him for his opposition to torture, and his refusal to scapegoat Spanish speaking people. I applaud his willingness to engage in debate with those who disagree with him. You might say he is my favorite "conservative liberal Republican" (as he recently described himself in what some called a Freudian slip).

But when it comes to the war in Iraq we part company. Americans want to see an end to the war and they will not get that from John McCain. And no amount of spin can change that fact.

Dave Tiffany is a politically independent activist working for peace in the Southern New Hampshire area.