11 June, 2008

Something Substantive

As reported by Yglesias and Ambinder, McCain doesn't think that it's "too important" when the troops come home (video below).

Of course it depends on what your goal is. McCain sort of has a point. As he says, it's fine that troops are in South Korea, Japan, and Germany because they don't get killed when they go to our bases in those countries. His justification, I think, belies his actual objectives in Iraq. It's fine that we have troops abroad in countries where they aren't faced with daily danger because no one complains about it. There are no military families wringing their hands when sons and daughters are sent to our bases in Germany. So there is no domestic political pushback against the US staying in these countries.

However, it's not fine that troops are in these countries if you want to see the US military presence throughout the world rolled back. It's not fine if you want to reduce the size of the military so the government can spend money on other things. It's also not fine if you live in those countries and want self-determination in military affairs. In South Korea, for example, there are daily protests against the US. As Yglesias points out, even Iraqis who are friendly to the US are preparing to ask us to leave. But these are clearly not John McCain's goals. John McCain's goal is to be able to do what he wants in Iraq without any political pushback.

More troubling, but also more speculative comment: the last part of his answer--"and come home with honor and victory, not in defeat!"--perhaps stems from a dangerous and deep-seated need to redeem his own military experience, from which American soldiers did indeed come home in defeat and dishonor.


Cassady said...

Spencer, I think you're spot on with this one.

The issue is entirely based in what you see as America's presence in the world. I for one feel that it should be less a military presence than a humanitarian. The plain fact of it right now is that we maintain military presences in sovereign nations--even our allies--some of whom don't really want us there.

How many Japanese bases are there in the US? Granted, they lost the big war, but it's been 60 years...time to make amends?

Even the quick psychoanalysis was probably somewhat accurate. McCain deeply desires victory, and this is the conflict where he has that chance. Personally, I think it's wrong to support and encourage a conflict that the vast majority of people do not support, and because of which the president who brought us there could very well face impeachment.

Elliot said...

Though I don't think it is very likely, I can envision a certain version of Iraq that, 100 years from now, peacefully houses US military bases after our successful pacification of the country. But the crucial question is not 'is that version of Iraq possible?' but 'how much does that version of Iraq cost?' That is what is missing from McCain's defense of this and the 100 years comment, and what makes them dishonest. Does that version of Iraq cost another 1000 US lives? 50,000? Does it cost war with Iran? How are those costs justified by benefits? McCain seems incapable of defending his strategic vision in any way other than vacuous bluster about 'honor' and 'victory', which is why I am truly frightened of his presidency.

Of course, if it were possible, through magic, to have the 120,000 US troops in Iraq begin peacefully coexisting with the population starting tomorrow, that would be a preferable state of affairs. But even if that could happen, our troop presence has opportunity cost. It strengthens the rationale of Al Qaeda and hard liners in Iran. It keeps troops from addressing the crisis in Afghanistan, or anywhere in the world they are needed. It imposes huge costs on our government. It keeps families apart. None of these things, even if you think they are acceptable costs, are 'not important'.

I think you're right, Spence, that the Vietnam legacy plays heavily into this mentality. McCain belongs to the set of conservative revisionist historians that hold that South Vietnam was on the brink of victory before Nixon pulled out, and that it was our lack of resolve (rather than the insurmountable and morally unjustifiable costs of counterinsurgency) that lost us the war.