Even Politico itself points out that this comment will only be problematic if taken out of context.
The exchange that has Democrats licking their chops began when co-host Matt Lauer asked about the surge strategy in Iraq: “If it's now working, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?
McCain replied: “No, but that's not too important. What's important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea, Japan. American troops are in Germany. That's all fine. … We will be able to withdraw. … The key to it is that we don't want any more Americans in harm's way.”
Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was early out of the gate with a statement, calling McCain’s comment “a crystal clear indicator that he just doesn’t get the grave national-security consequences of staying the course – Osama bin Laden is freely plotting attacks, our efforts in Afghanistan are undermanned, and our military readiness has been dangerously diminished.”
McCain explained his remark, but it could be very damaging when taken out of context. The statement is sensitive because Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has pledged to, in the words of his website, “immediately begin withdrawing our troops engaged in combat operations at a pace of one or two brigades every month, to be completed by the end of next year.”Now, this comment, much like his previous comment about staying in Iraq 100 years, shows the divergent philosophy of McCain to the Democrats. McCain sees permanent presence and bases in Iraq as a perfectly natural extension of a successful war. That's because he sees Iraq as a vital and necessary endeavor that we must win. McCain sees no problem with a long U.S. presence as long as Americans aren't in harm's way. That's the situation in Korea and all throughout Europe. He sees long term goals in Iraq much the same way that they have been in those two regions.
The Democrats, on the other hand, don't see this as a worthwhile endeavor and their goal is to get the troops out as soon as possible. They see any hint of a long term U.S. presence as an affront. For instance, the Democrats have been up in arms over a planned long term security agreement between the Iraqis and the U.S. that Bush is trying to finalize.
Her concerns have been echoed by Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and other Democratic lawmakers who are focusing their fire on the administration's plans for a long-term commitment to Iraq, after gaining little traction for their efforts to force a faster withdrawal of U.S. combat troops there.Politically the Democrats currently have the upper hand. It is unlikely the majority of the public wants a long term presence. It is unclear what the political ramifications of these particular comments will be. Keep in mind that in the end the Democrats were eventually damaged more by their misrepresentation of McCain's 100 years war comments than McCain himself. The larger question over future Iraq policy is open to debate on the other hand. The McCain campaign has already issued a response.
"How do you make an commitment to a country where there is no way of measuring whether that country is likely to have a functioning government?" Sen. Joseph R Biden Jr. (Del.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, asked in an interview yesterday.
The Obama campaign is embarking on a false attack on John McCain to hide their own candidate’s willingness to disregard facts on the ground in pursuit of withdrawal no matter what the costs. John McCain was asked if he had a ‘better estimate’ for a timeline for withdrawal. As John McCain has always said, that is not as important as conditions on the ground and the recommendations of commanders in the field. Any reasonable person who reads the full transcript would see this and reject the Obama campaign’s attempt to manipulate, twist and distort the truth.”
Right now, the Democrats have the upper hand politically. On the other hand, the situation on the ground has improved dramatically. While that has had little effect on polls and public perception, those things can change rapidly especially when the situation on the ground changes.
Ultimately, it will be up to John McCain to convince the public that things have improved and that it is vital to see it through. He was an early critic of the Rumsfeld policy, and he was an early supporter of the new strategy. He should welcome this latest dust up and any opportunity to debate Iraq. John McCain will not win this election unless he changes public perception on the war. He won't do that unless that subject is debated fully. This dust up offers him another opportunity.