Outwit Outplay Outlast

Matt is exercised by John McCain’s remarks regarding a long-term US military presence in Iraq.

I’m most amused by the bearded guy in the front row: his mouth is literally hanging open in what appears to be shock. This is classic McCain. Clearly the questioner wants some kind of glib answer, “Of course we want to leave as soon as possible,” etc., and McCain is refusing to play along. Now, Matt is looking at this as an observer in the Arab world might look at this:

Nevertheless, not even George W. Bush is nearly so cavalier and irresponsible as to make the kind of remarks McCain is saying here. Bush, it seems, has advisors who know something about the diplomatic situation. Bush has even spoken personally with heads of state and other officials throughout the Arab world. Bush, in short, recklessless and immature though he may be still knows that it plays very very very poorly in the Arab world for American leaders to run around talking about 100 year occupations of Iraq.

Of course, McCain was making an important point: we don’t fret over the US presence in Korea or Japan or Europe. They key thing is achieving some level of peace and stability, and if that requires a US troop presence, so be it. Matt is write to suggest that the Arab world is different, e.g., resistance to US troops in Saudi Arabia has fueled anti-American resentment. If you believe Robert Pape, occupation is the ur-explanation for suicide bombings in Iraq and elsewhere.

The question is, which constituency matters most? Matt believes it is the informed Arab public, who will use the notion of a 100-year occupation to great propagandistic effect. Or is it the “community” of those who are hoping to use violent means to seize control of Iraq, and who hope to outlast the US presence? My sense, and I’m not certain by any means, is that the latter constituency weighs more heavily at the moment, knowing that the former one is of course important. Iraqi public opinion is famously and understandably schizophrenic about the occupation: bitterly opposed, and deeply worried about the prospect of withdrawal.