Did McCain Reject A Longterm Presence of U.S. Troops?

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Sam Stein at the Huffington Post has the quotes, the video and the headline: "Shocking McCain Quotes Unearthed" to suggest that he was skeptical of the idea, but the transcript of the interview, given in 2005, is more equivocal:

Here:



MATTHEWS: As a policy suggestion, is it something that we all want the world to know we`re eventually coming home and we might as well argue about when or...

MCCAIN: Sure we`re going to come home.

But the fact is that the key to it is not when the troops come home. It is when we stop reading -- today, Shuster just reported four brave young Marines were killed. It is the casualties that creates the discontent amongst Americans. We`ve been in Bosnia for, what, 10, 12, years, Kosovo for 10 years, South Korea for 50 years. Americans aren`t upset about that.

But we have got to get the casualty rate down. And that`s the transfer of well-trained and well-equipped Iraqis to handle the security situation.

Followed by this paragraph, parts of which are included in the YouTube video that the Huffington Post obtained from a Democrat:


MATTHEWS: Would you be happy -- we`ve been there to help get them democracy started. But would you be happy with that being the home of a U.S. garrison, like Guantanamo or Germany all those years, where we have 50,000 troops permanently stationed in that country?

MCCAIN: No. I would hope that we could bring them all home. I would hope that we would probably leave some military advisers, as we have in other countries, to help them with their training and equipment and that kind of stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But you`ve heard the ideological argument to keep U.S. forces in the Middle East. I`ve heard it from the hawks. They say, keep United States military presence in the Middle East, like we have with the 7th Fleet in Asia. We have the German -- the North Korean -- the South Korean component. Do you think we could get along without it?

MCCAIN: I not only think we could get along without it, but I think one of our big problems has been the fact that many Iraqis resent American military presence.

And I don`t pretend to know exactly Iraqi public opinion. But as soon as we can reduce our visibility as much as possible, the better I think it is going to be.

One can question the wisdom of what McCain's proposing, but the full context of the interview he gave in 2005 suggests that he modeled a long-term US commitment to Iraq on South Korea, albeit with a big difference: a major corps would not necessarily have to embed itself in the country. Soldiers, euphamized as "military advisers," would maintain a presence. But McCain has never said that he favors keeping combat troops in Iraq for an indefinite period of time. Major questions remain: what constitutes an appropriate level of casualties? How will the US know when Iraq is stable enough for us to begin withdrawing troops? What will McCain's "military advisers" do? If Iraq erupts into chaos after troops leave, will the US retrench?

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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