05/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

McCain's New Iraq Fantasy

After yet another crushing special election loss for the GOP, and with Obama's national numbers building strength against his rival, John McCain has realized the need to take a new direction, beginning today with a horrifyingly disingenuous speech.

McCain has consistently opposed even the slightest notion of setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. It had been the drumbeat that walked his weak candidacy to the doorstep of the Republican nomination. He has even, to his dismay, suggested that we may stay in Iraq for 100 years, a quote that has made its way into Democratic stump speeches, and DNC commercials.

McCain has argued that the characterization is unfair, that in fact, he was describing a scenario akin to Germany or Korea, in which the United States has a peaceful presence in Iraq, in the absence of the kind of violence to which we have all become accustomed. Of course, such a formulation demonstrates a dramatic divergence from reality. Iraq has never been, nor will it ever be, analogous to Germany or Korea, neither of which had the kind of deep-seeded sectarian violence that we see in Iraq. Moreover, it is our occupation of the Middle East that has served to increase the level of violence, as well as the recruiting aims of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Our presence is the underlying cause. That John McCain believes a long term occupation of Iraq could provide stability to the region is sufficient evidence that John McCain does not understand the world around him.

What's worse is that, even taking his formulation at face value, McCain is claiming a willingness to keep our troops in Iraq, no matter the loss in life, for however long it takes to eventually have no more loss of life. The silenced names on the Vietnam Memorial know the value of such a policy.

As a result, McCain has decided to break with his own precedent, and to claim that, unlike all of his previous statements, he expects an end to the Iraq war by the end of his first term. In a major address today, McCain envisions that, by January 2013, we will be welcoming most of our troops home. He sees that future as one in which "the Iraq war has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced." This latest suggestion is, in its most positive light, a political ploy. And it is preconditioned on the impossible.

If he believes what he is saying, then McCain is yet again showing a passing understanding of the conflict in the Middle East. Even by the most generous assessments, it would take at least sixteen months to withdraw our troops from Iraq. To have the bulk of our troops home by January of 2013, with his preconditions having been met, would require that McCain somehow achieve this functioning democracy and dramatic decrease in violence within two years of taking office. From where does he imagine he will find political reconciliation? In what sense can he expect a reduction in violence, given no evidence that a long-term reduction is sustainable? It is simply not feasible to assume that our exit from Iraq, if it were to coincide with the happy ending McCain portends, could possibly happen in either 100 years or on his new shortened timeline.

It is far more likely, however, that McCain does not believe what he is saying, that he has not in fact, had a genuine change of heart. The conditions on the ground in Iraq have not changed. But the political conditions for this election have. This is not an honest assessment from the self-appointed king of straight talk. It is rather yet another false promise, uttered with a straight face, as an attempt to survive an election, and with no intent to follow through.

With comments that break with himself and the GOP, McCain is showing yet again that he has a willingness to lie that truly makes him a Bush Republican.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?