Fake positioning

Why are Republicans like John McCain now stating fantasy positions on Iraq? So they are able to save face and still position themselves for “victory.”

Jason Stahl

Lately, some staunch Republican Iraq War supporters have been struggling to find new ways to talk about the “what to do in Iraq” now that the country is in total chaos. Some, like Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, are struggling honestly with how to deal with the situation.

But most supporters, unwilling to declare their support for the war as wrongheaded, are now developing “fantasy positions” on the war. These fantasy positions are defined by two main qualities. First and foremost, they will never actually happen because the position simply cannot be implemented as policy. Second, because the position cannot be implemented as policy, its real purpose is for the Republican war supporter to be able to save face and still position himself/herself as for “victory” in Iraq. For one of the best examples of the Iraq fantasy position, one need look no further than Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Yes, yes, I know – this can’t possibly be the case. I mean, John McCain has a bus called The Straight Talk Express and we all know someone with a bus advertising their “straight talking” credentials could not possibly be deceiving the American public with an Iraq fantasy position. Well, I would submit that this self-positioning by McCain – with help from his media allies – makes him a prime candidate for an Iraq fantasy position because he can get away with so much more obfuscation than your standard American politician.

So what exactly is McCain’s current “position” on Iraq? On the Oct. 18 “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” McCain was more than happy to outline his fantasy. On top of the 140,000 troops already in Iraq, McCain argued that “we need to expand the Army and the Marine Corps by 100,000 people” and send those Americans to Iraq as well, in order to try to stabilize the country.

This position is pure fantasy for multiple reasons. The most obvious is that McCain argued recruitment – and not a draft – could accomplish the goal. Given that the armed forces are already having trouble meeting their recruitment goal, this seems unlikely. McCain got a first-hand example of the problem after he stated his position. The show was being taped in front of an audience of mostly college students at Iowa State University – many of whom seemed to be supportive of McCain and the war. But, when Chris Matthews asked those in attendance at Iowa State to stand up if they were considering joining the armed forces, very few did so. Matthews then suggested that a draft would be necessary because “we’ve got a couple of thousand of young people here, and a very, very small percentage have expressed a commitment, even by standing here.” Moreover, even if 100,000 troops could magically be produced, it would not be enough to stabilize Iraq. As Paul Krugman recently noted in The New York Times, a 1995 study of the “arithmetic of insurgencies” showed that the current situation in Iraq would require 500,000 troops for stabilization. In other words, we would need 360,000 more troops – not the 100,000 McCain is asking for. This is the definition of fantasy.

As I said at the outset, however, McCain’s Iraq fantasy position is not really put forth as an actual policy proposal. McCain is a smart man and he knows that the position he is advocating is simply not possible. Instead, the fake position is designed to show that McCain still thinks the war is correct and that he is “serious” about winning it.

The reality, however, is that his position represents the exact opposite of “seriousness” in that McCain is ignoring the cold hard facts of our occupation of Iraq. The facts are these: Either we institute a draft and ramp up the occupation by more than three and a half times, or we start a immediate withdrawal. I am for the latter, as the former would be unbelievably amoral and, for good reason, would never be accepted by the American public. Anything other than the acceptance of either of these positions is simply a denial of reality at the expense of more American and Iraqi deaths. Anything other than these positions is a fantasy with a purpose other than ending the war and stopping the killing.

Jason Stahl welcomes comments at [email protected]