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From Harry Truman To Howard Dean

Monday, I received a mass email from Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Here's what he wrote:

John McCain wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years. He's said it, and it's on tape.
But his campaign hates that he was caught. They've viciously attacked anyone who reminded the American people that he said it, including me. They've said that those who reference the 100 years comments are "deliberately misleading voters."
So we've taken John McCain's own words -- video of him saying that 100 years would be "fine with me" -- and made a TV ad. There's no confusion, no distortion, no misleading -- it's John McCain, on tape, for voters to judge on their own.
It's one of the most powerful political ads I've ever seen. It's devastating -- and the McCain campaign will spend the rest of the election trying to fight it.

You can watch the ad here. It is disingenuous from start to finish, the inevitable attack ad version of what Charles Krauthammer earlier called the "100 year lie." In between McCain's utterance of "Maybe a hundred [years]" and "fine by me" (responding to a question about future troop presence in Iraq), the Arizona Senator said, "We’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so." Conveniently, the DNC spliced this essential context from its advertisement. Moreover, after "fine by me," Mccain elaborated, "as long as Americans, as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. It’s fine with me and I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world."

Howard Dean whines that he's been "viciously attacked." Cry me a river. He deserves whatever he's getting for his dishonest and cynical pandering to unadulterated isolationist sentiment (which is becoming quite a trend in the Democratic Party; remember John Kerry's disgraceful "opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America" remark in his 2004 acceptance speech). Of course, Iraq may never become the place where "Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed," in which case keeping American troops there may not be in our best interest. But McCain never said he supported keeping American soldiers in harm's way for "100 years." In fact, he explicitly warned against it. Howard Dean, Barack Obama and any semi-sentient person who bothered to spend 30 seconds listening to McCain's answer knows what he meant. 

But if the DNC wants use isolationism to win votes, let's take their rhetoric to its logical conclusion. Why not pull all of our troops out of South Korea and Japan -- the two peaceful countries McCain spoke of in his original comment? Dean probably isn't even aware, but it was a Democratic president, one of our greatest presidents, who committed American troops to those two countries with the full intent of keeping them there indefinitely to secure the peace. I don't think Harry Truman, if he were around today, would be appalled at the fact that we have 26,000 troops patrolling the DMZ in South Korea or 33,000 American troops in Japan. Perhaps Dean should next advocate a withdrawal of forces from Germany, the United Kingdom, Iceland and the dozens of other countries where the presence of American soldiers comprise our global defense posture, all of them stationed at the behest of the host countries. Come an Obama or Clinton administration, when the democratically elected parliament of the Iraqi people requests a continued American troop presence in Iraq -- as it has repeatedly done since the formation of the post-Saddam government -- will Congressional Democrats and the president nonetheless carry out a withdrawal? So much for "paying any price" and "bearing any burden."

--James Kirchick