The "100 Years" War

A campaign blog.
April 1 2008 2:25 PM

The "100 Years" War

You know when you say something, and the moment you say it, you know it was a bad idea? Democrats are trying to make John McCain’s " Make it 100 years " quote sound like that kind of moment—a gaffe of enormous proportions that he will never live down.

Barack Obama pushed this argument during a press conference yesterday, jousting with a reporter who pointed out that Obama planned to keep troops in Iraq to protect the embassy. "That’s very different from saying that we’re gonna have a permanent occupation in Iraq," Obama responded. "And it’s certainly different from saying that we would have a high level of combat troops inside Iraq for a decade or two decades or as John McCain said, perhaps 100 years."

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Obama didn’t dispute that McCain’s "100 years" reference was analogous to a long-term presence in South Korea—a fact that has made news . But he still disagreed that the United States would want to keep that many troops in Iraq for that long. (The U.S. still has 25,000 troops stationed in South Korea.)

To clear things up, here's video of Obama's initial "100 years" quote. And here’s what McCain said on Face the Nation , in his big-budget sequel to the "100 years" quote:

The point is, it’s [about] American casualties. We got to get Americans off the front lines, have Iraqis as part of the strategy to take over more and more of the responsibilities, and then I don’t think Americans are concerned if we’re there for 100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years. What they care about is the sacrifice of our most precious treasure, and that’s American blood.

In context, McCain’s statements seem clear: He doesn’t want the war to continue for 100 years. But he’s willing to keep a few brigades there as long as they’re not getting killed. Granted, he won’t say under what circumstances he would be willing to pull out of Iraq—a major hole in his analysis. But for Obama and others to paint McCain’s stance as a war without end doesn’t quite hold up. Plus, it gives McCain yet another chance to paint Obama as a neophyte .

Still, the opportunity to fudge the "100 years" quote is almost too good to pass up. It’s one of those statements the nuances of which ultimately don’t matter—like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet or John Kerry’s joke about failing students getting "stuck in Iraq." Whether or not Obama decides to seize on it, other Democrats no doubt will.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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