That's the critical question in this campaign: do Americans want a neo-empire in the Middle East? Do they want US troops permanently stationed in Iraq with up to 60 permanent bases? That's what the Bush administration wants to foist onto Iraq; and that's what McCain believes in. The viral video now buzzing on the Internets is not a gaffe, it's the truth. McCain would love to see US troops stationed peacefully in Iraq for the foreseeable future. To him it does not matter when they come home. What matters is that the casualty rate get low enough to persuade Americans they shouldn't care about another expansion of American empire. In fact, the entire debate about bringing them home is puzzling and frustrating to McCain. After all, why should we bring them home when being there for ever is the point?

It wasn't WMDs or Saddam's threat that motivated this war, we now understand, so much as the capacity to forward station US troops in an oil-rich region and help contain Iran. Is this a good idea? That's what the Iraqis are now furiously debating. And it's what Americans should be furiously debating in this campaign. It's the biggest difference between the two candidates and it couldn't be more important.