Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 30, 2008
By: Hilzoy

MORE STRAIGHT TALK...

Just in case anyone was in any doubt about the awesome advantage in understanding conferred by a trip to Iraq, John McCain provides a perfect illustration:

"So I can tell you that it is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr city are quiet and it's long and it's hard and it's tough and there will be setbacks."

As ThinkProgress notes, Mosul isn't quiet. Moreover, Nico Pitney at HuffPo notes that McCain apparently doesn't know how many troops we have in Iraq. Pre-surge, there were 130,000 troops in Iraq. The number of troops is supposed to be down to 140,000 by July.

Steve Benen quotes John Kerry's response:

"If you don't know the numbers of troops, it's very difficult to make a judgment about whether or not they're over-extended. It's also very hard to have an understanding, as a citizen, about what levels of troops he's going to keep there. If he thinks 150,000 is 'pre-surge,' and that's where he's going to stay, that's a deeply over-extended military, and it raises serious questions about his comprehension of this challenge."

The McCain campaign's response is a bit bizarre:

"Clearly John Kerry and Barack Obama have very little understanding of troop levels, but considering Barack Obama hasn't been to Iraq in 873 days and has never had a one on one meeting with Gen. Petraeus, it isn't a surprise to anyone that he demonstrates weak leadership.

"What informed people understand, John McCain included, is that American troops are not even close to surge levels. Three of the five Army 'surge' brigades have been withdrawn and additional Marines that were initially deployed for the 'surge' have come home as well -- the remaining two brigades will be home in July.

"Talk about a political stunt, it's sending out campaign surrogates to parse words about a topic Barack Obama has no experience with, and has shown zero interest in learning about."

Maybe, if John Kerry and Barack Obama had McCain's deep understanding of troop levels, they would see that while 130,000 and 150,000 are different numbers in normal cases, when you're talking about troop levels, they are the same. Somehow, I doubt it.

McCain was wrong. He should just admit it, especially since he wasn't just off by a little. The entire surge involved about 40,000 troops. We are now about 20,000 above pre-surge levels. The problem, of course, is that he can't admit his mistake without undercutting his line that he's the one who really understands Iraq, despite having been consistently wrong both about the broad policy and about such minor details as who the players are.

***

My favorite part of the exchange:

"McCain national security adviser Randy Scheunemann conceded that McCain said troop levels "have" been drawn down to pre-surge levels. "If he had said 'we'd drawn down,' he'd be accurate," Scheunemann said. "If he had said 'we were drawing down,' he would be accurate."

"To get into a debate about a verb tense rather than the real fundamental national security issues ... is really a distraction.""

Sometimes it matters whether something is true now, or will become true in the future. (If you doubt this, try explaining to the IRS why the fact that you will eventually send in your tax return is all that matters.) This is one of those cases. Eventually there will be no US troops in Iraq. That does not mean that if McCain had said that there are no US troops in Iraq now, noting that that was false would be debating verb tenses.

Still, it's nice to know in advance that we can expect John McCain not to care about the difference between past, present, and future. It will be very useful, if he becomes President, to know that he regards a statement like "I have taken action" as equivalent to "I will, eventually, get around to doing something, but I haven't yet", and that he takes "I have already made all the documents available" and "several decades from now, I will get around to releasing them" to be interchangeable.

Hilzoy 3:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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Comments

McCain, having served his two terms as president, is constitutionally disqualifed from the fall election.

What's that you say? He hasn't served two terms as president yet? To get into a debate about a verb tense rather than the real fundamental issue is really just a distraction.

Posted by: rea on May 30, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

I hope McCain keeps up all this Iraq talk. I think he's only pushing it so hard because he's trying to trigger the ancient Democratic instinct that Democrats lose any time the issue is national security. I think McCain thinks he can trigger this instinct, and then Obama and the Dems will stop talking about Iraq -- which McCain knows is his greatest vulnerability.

But I also think the bluff won't work with Obama. So we can all -- with McCain's help -- keep the focus on Iraq, McCain's biggest vulnerability. With the advantage that he keeps making dumb mistakes that undermine his claim to deep mastery and insight of all things foreign policy.

Posted by: tom on May 30, 2008 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Remember, this boneheaded frame will become the cornerstone of Republican talking points. Soon Obama is going to be asked why his understanding is so flawed, when you consider McCains position. He will be attacked by republicans with this framework on Iraq.

Posted by: mickslam on May 30, 2008 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

What Bill Clinton actually meant was "I am not having sex with that woman."

Posted by: Rob M on May 30, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Nice to know that mclame says he can "look you straight in the eye" and lie like hell.

Of course, the MSM will tell us that this is another example of him being a "straight-talker".

The lying liars will also "catapult the propaganda" that a shill that supported chimpy 100% of the time is somehow a "maverick".

Posted by: on May 30, 2008 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

"The check is in the mail" -John McCain

Posted by: Doctor Jay on May 30, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

The more McCain speaks, the more mistakes he makes. The more coverage he gets, the more the cracks appear. He doesn't do nuance, nor does he appear to do policy or details. He never has and he never will. He's not a thinker, nor a leader, nor a manager; he's a lone-wolf former fighter jock with a dynamite resume and a big temper who's good at platitudes and "my friends". I think he will, with a little help, self-destruct in a big way in the campaign.

Posted by: jrw on May 30, 2008 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

What Bill Clinton actually meant was "I am not having sex with that woman."

Rob M. wins the thread.

Posted by: drjimcooper on May 30, 2008 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

I really do hope he just explodes some time and drops dead of a heart attack. I think "acts of God" are the only way we can be free of idiots like McCain since around 45% of Americans want to vote for the asshole.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 30, 2008 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II, if McSham drops dead we'll have a Republican candidate with real foreign policy experience, like, say, um, Huckabee? Romney? Julie?

We are so screwed.

Posted by: thersites on May 30, 2008 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think McCain meant to say...

"Jam a bastard in it, you crap."

or was it...

"Make that bitch your bitch, you bastard."

Something like that.

Posted by: eightnine2718281828mu5 on May 30, 2008 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Jeff II, if McSham drops dead we'll have a Republican candidate with real foreign policy experience, like, say, um, Huckabee? Romney? Julie?Posted by: thersites

It's a bit late for that, and no one liked the Huckster or Romney enough to get them through the primaries. Julie's laying low just hoping to keep from being indicted along with Kerik.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 30, 2008 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

I believe that psychologists worry about adults who can't tell the difference between the present tense and the future conditional.

Posted by: etaoin shrdlu on May 30, 2008 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

The tense talk is all about creating "gaffe" cover form McCain. A "gaffe" is a mistake not reflective of a genuine misunderstanding. It is the same strategy his flacks employed when he said Iran was providing weapons to Al Qaeda. Joe LIEberman whispered in his ear and he quickly was excused for making a "gaffe." The real question is will the pundit class call McCain's comment a gaffe or will they call it what it is, a comment by someone who really doesn't know what he is talking about. My bet is that it will be called a "gaffe." His flack has given him enough cover that the pundits don't even have to look up from their danish and coffee.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 30, 2008 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

Obama in Iraq:

"McCain said it was safe here; what are those helicopters doing? And did we need a full platoon just to buy some milk?"

Later...

"Pretty quiet here in the Green Zone; our snipers only had to take down 2 suicide bombers before breakfast; hopefully the afternoon will be as calm."

Posted by: eightnine2718281828mu5 on May 30, 2008 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

I really do hope he just explodes some time and drops dead of a heart attack. I think "acts of God" are the only way we can be free of idiots like McCain since around 45% of Americans want to vote for the asshole.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 30, 2008 at 4:36 PM

From a purely Machiavellian point of view, I've been saying that nothing would be better for the conservative movement than to have McCain pick a solid conversative to solidify the base, get elected and then die ala William Henry Harrison before he can do any real damage to the country with his RINO policies. Or God forbid, get to make nominations to the courts especially to the Supreme Court.

Posted by: Chicounsel on May 30, 2008 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

"straight talk" like homosexual prostitute with fake ID & press credentials jeff gannon/guckert ramin' it down chimpy's throat and up his butt during his many documented overnights in the White House.

Evidently, messing around with a cigar is an impeachable offense, but gay sex (outside of your marriage)is not.

Lucky for chimpy, huh

Posted by: on May 30, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Amplifying Ron Byers above, McCain has got the "Oh, dopey me" act down to a T.

It's a cover for statements that are plain, factually wrong. Sometimes, at least, he understands the deception he's perpetrating. For example, in response to McClellan's book, he said, "Everyone thought Saddam had WMD".

Of course, the term WMD was invented and used by the White House to confuse chemical and biological weapons with nuclear weapons, which are a lot scarier.

So when you want to scare people you talk about nuclear program, and use qualifiers, "Saddam may have nuclear weapons in 5 years" and "Saddam is seeking nuclear weapons". Having the same meaning as "We may find a gold nugget in my shit someday." and "I am seeking to win the lottery."

But when you need to give positive, affirmative, unqualified statements, you use WMD. As in, "Saddam has long had WMDs, and has used them against his own people", and "Everyone thought he had WMDs".

This is a deliberate deception. McCain is still stuck in it. I would love, love, love to see Scott McClellan explain how this works in testimony before Congress.

Now, it may be that the Bush administration has set up another such linguistic blind. By drawing down all of the "units" involved with the surge, while leaving more troops in Iraq, via transfers, and reassignments, and other forms of creative accounting. And McCain launched it today.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on May 30, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

it's July already? where did the summer go?

Posted by: DB on May 30, 2008 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

He's not a thinker, nor a leader, nor a manager; he's a lone-wolf former fighter jock with a dynamite resume and a big temper who's good at platitudes and "my friends". I think he will, with a little help, self-destruct in a big way in the campaign.

Yeah, jrw, and I don't think it's going to require much help. I think we're going to see pretty soon that he has an extraordinarily short fuse on the issue of defense, in general, and Iraq, in particular. Military affairs are his (ostensibly) signature -- if not singular -- issue, and when he's publicly & repeatedly shown to be incontrovertibly wrong on the details (as here), it won't be long before he becomes unhinged in a very public way. The countdown is on, and the oddsmakers are going crazy in Vegas.

Posted by: junebug on May 30, 2008 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

DB: it's July already? where did the summer go?

We have another contender for winner of the thread.

Posted by: thersites on May 30, 2008 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers wrote: "The real question is will the pundit class call McCain's comment a gaffe or will they call it what it is, a comment by someone who really doesn't know what he is talking about."

There isn't really any real question.

Of course the "pundit class" and the "political press" -- all of whom are highly-paid employees of the giant corporations who own and control the mass media from which most Americans get most of their information -- are going to do for John McCain what they did for George Bush in 2000, and are going to do to Barack Obama what they did to Al Gore in 2000.

And the result will be that McCain and the Republican Party will get a close enough vote to steal the third presidential election in a row, and America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. will get the president they want, to continue the Cheney/Bush policies of enriching and empowering the rich and powerful.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 30, 2008 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

it's July already? where did the summer go?

It seems like only last week that it was 2013 and President McCain had brought home most of the troops from Iraq, Iraq was a functioning democracy, Osama bin Laden was either dead or captured, Iran and North Korea will be nuke-free, we'll have a robust economy, lower taxes, much improved public education, accessible health care for all, Social Security will have been "fixed", we'll have secure national borders, limited greenhouse gas emissions, and 20 shiny new nuclear reactors.

Posted by: AJB on May 30, 2008 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

How fondly I remember the Supremes singing,
"baby, baby, where will our love have gone?"

Posted by: thersites on May 30, 2008 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

it's July already? where did the summer go?

Why it went to the gas tax holiday - what did you sleep through the party?

Posted by: optical weenie on May 30, 2008 at 5:49 PM | PERMALINK

So, McCain's campaign's defense is that his statement was true in the exact same sense that "Barack Obama is President of the United States" is true?

Really? That's what they're going with?

Posted by: cmdicely on May 30, 2008 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

The very first thing I thought of when McSame said since Obama chose not to serve in the military, he should not be lecturing McSame on military policy is this:

Since McSame has no experience having babies or being pregnant, he should not be making decisions setting policy for women regarding abortion rights!

Posted by: kraftysue on May 30, 2008 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

McCain was doing pretty good there until his mind wandered into a fantasy about Bush's dick.

Posted by: j swift on May 30, 2008 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

SecAm is right. After all...

Obama is a Muslim who listened to his black nationalist pastor say GODDAMNAMERICA for 20 years!! He's too chicken to visit Iraq. If he's president the terrorists will kill us all!! Did you know he's the #1 most liberal Senator and believes in PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION? Did you know his wife is a RACIST who HATES AMERICA?!! Did you know he was endorsed by HAMAS? I'm a Democrat, but I would never vote for Barack HUSSEIN Obama.

Wake me up when it's over.

Posted by: Lucy on May 30, 2008 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

Obama: young, energetic, healthy, hopeful and wants to unify America to solve our problems

McCain: old, tired, had cancer, happy to continue war in Iraq 100 years and let America go to Hell

You choose.

Posted by: MarkH on May 30, 2008 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

But MarkH, you know you can't sit down and have a beer with a Muslim. Sheesh.

Posted by: thersites on May 30, 2008 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: So, McCain's campaign's defense is that his statement was true in the exact same sense that "Barack Obama is President of the United States" is true?

Yes. What McCain obviously said is that if Obama was POTUS "we would be at pre-surge levels", and thus, given a competent CiC, that "Basra, Mosul and now Sadr-city are quiet".

Posted by: has on May 30, 2008 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

McCain's puffery about being so goddamn smart about all things military is symptomatic of senile, impotent old men who are re-living the virility of their youth by fantasizing aloud that they still have some.

This rotten old fuck belongs in the veteran's home.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 30, 2008 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

This puts his 2013 commercial in a whole new light. Maybe he meant in 2013 we won't have accomplished any of the things he promises yet, but we will, eventually do so. Pointing that out would just be nitpicking about verb tense.

Posted by: DJAnyReason on May 30, 2008 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

McCain will try this "I will go to Iraq' business, and anything else that comes to mind, so long as has the potential to turn the campaign into a dick-measuring contest.

So long as the Presidential campaign can be turned into and kept a job interview for a hired killer, McCain has a chance.

That's the lesson the GOP took away from 2004. Bush will off brown people for you, so you won't be afraid. Kerry, not so much.

It's not great, but what else have they got? The economy? Teh Ghey?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on May 30, 2008 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

And what about when the Shirelles sang,
"Did you still love me tomorrow?"

Posted by: thersites on May 30, 2008 at 9:49 PM | PERMALINK

McCain is actually showing signs of Dementia.

Dementia (from Latin de- "apart, away" + mens (genitive mentis) "mind") is the progressive decline in cognitive function due to damage or disease in the brain beyond what might be expected from normal aging.

In this latest YouTube video that is all over the internet right and mentioned on the news today. Either McCain is a BIGGER LIAR that Bush ever was - or more likely McCain simply can NOT remember what he is saying from day to day, moment to moment - and the reason why Lieberman had to remind him of facts. This is why he gets angry too. Persons with dementia get very mad when people correct them, this accounts for his extreme hostility.

I'm sure the Repugs are starting to wish they'd have pick Mike Huckabee. McCain is showing very real signs of senility and now we know why he was so careful with his medical records.

Posted by: Me-again on May 30, 2008 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

In some Semitic languages verb aspect -- whether the action is completed or not -- trumps verb tense -- when the action happens.

So the future, present and imperfect are all sort of smooshed together.

Upon mature reflection, I'm sure McCain's usage simply reflects this aspectual understanding of the verb, the result of his extensive travel in and study of the Middle East, its peoples and tongues.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on May 30, 2008 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

For the (slightly) younger crowd, how about when the Ramones sang
"Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours ago,
I will have been sedated."

Posted by: thersites on May 30, 2008 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

There was a time when Americans didn't discuss troop levels in the media during wartime.

Posted by: Toby Petzold on May 30, 2008 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

There was also a time that we could have a little faith and trust in our government because it didn't send troops into harms way to fight vanity wars to deal with an idiot son's daddy issues, too.

Posted by: volatile compound on May 30, 2008 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

Oh and this from Reuters

By Matthew Robinson - Analysis

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pension funds and other investors who rushed into oil through commodity indexes this year chasing big returns as other asset classes tanked could face steep losses if prices fall from record highs.

An avalanche of cash has rolled into commodities through simple long-only indexes this year, feeding the record-setting oil rally some experts say could be a bubble that is becoming more vulnerable to shifts in supply and demand fundamentals.

A sell-off in oil could spell big losses for the pension funds, municipal funds, college funds, unions and other groups that jumped out of equities-market plays and into the indexes, but have little experience or flexibility to deal with fundamental changes in commodities.

You don't say! Because you know, Kevin swears it's not speculation, but really it's a combination of product control and speculation.

It's time to break up the oil companies just like the government broke up Ma Bell. So this Bank threatening problem doesn’t EVER happen again. This is what happens when government lets big corporate companies write policy. It's going to cause American's whole financial system to collapse.

I mean think about it, why didn't suspending of the filling of the Oil Reserve AND the that fact that Americans are driving a lot less because of price have ANY impact on supply? Unless Big Oil is controlling volume and they are - this proves it?

This is NOT peak oil, this is price gouging.

Posted by: Me-again on May 30, 2008 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

"Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours ago,
I WANNA be sedated."

Nothin to do no where to go-hoho-hoho...(yeah, I'm sedated)

Posted by: elmo on May 30, 2008 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

Me-again: This is NOT peak oil, this is price gouging.

Which isn't to say that peak oil ain't a-coming.

Pal Toby: There was a time when Americans didn't discuss troop levels in the media during wartime. Yeah, so why is that treacherous scum McSham emboldening our enemies by low-balling troop level figures?

Posted by: thersites the foul-mouthed loser on May 30, 2008 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone but me notice that the initials for Volatile Compound are VC?

Just sayin'

Posted by: thersites on May 30, 2008 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

There was a time when Americans didn't discuss troop levels in the media during wartime.

A) We're not at war in Iraq, we're occupying a friendly, sovereign nation. Also, apparently the whole damn place has been pacified, to hear McCain tell it.

B) As I type this I'm perusing news articles from World War 2 detailing not only troop levels in theater but the specific battalions doing the fighting - information which was released by -gasp! - Allied headquarters!

So given this information, exactly which time were you referring to? Civil? Revolutionary? Battle of Hastings? Some other irrelevant example? Screw off, grandma.

Posted by: trex on May 30, 2008 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

I think what he's trying to say is, "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is".

But the more important point that showing that McCain is either lying or ignorant is that the number of troops had to come down anyway, victory or no, simply because there weren't any more available. That was always the plan, because it was the only option.

Posted by: MikeN on May 31, 2008 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

McCain is just a scam-man who is using the technique of proclaiming, as early and as loudly as he can, that he is the best friend of all of us and the most honest guy we've ever met. If you've got a brain and can read some news, the "scam-man" part of that proposition can't help but stand out more and more definitely.

Posted by: Swan on May 31, 2008 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

That does not mean that if McCain had said that there are no US troops in Iraq now, noting that that was false would be debating verb tense.

Hilzoy, please be informed that John McCain's campaign just released the following clarification of terminology and tenses:

"John McCain was against the pre-surge, for the surge, and against a post-surge from the very beginning. That is, he does not believe in pre-surges or post-surges; he only supports surges. Thus, when he becomes president in November, the nation will be in a permanent state of surge."

"Senator Obama, on the other hand, clearly supports pre-surges and post-surges, but opposes surges. Were he to be elected, since for him a post-surge is the same as a pre-surge, the nation would be constantly in the stage of pre-surge or in the past tense, never able to take military action against our enemies."

"In bold contrast, Americans can be confident that Senator McCain will always be in the moment, in the present tense -- actually beyond considerations of tense altogether -- and, of course, surging."

Posted by: Econobuzz on May 31, 2008 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting to me that one of the arguments by dunderheads regarding why Hillary should GET OUT NOW (been going on for months) is that it's allowing McCain to have this FREE RIDE (and weekend in all of his 8 homes)because of the "distraction"...so, I guess it is TRUE that our media cannot walk and chew gum at the same time! They should be out there interviewing and picking at him daily like they do the DEM candidates...(not so much Obama)...

Posted by: Dancer on May 31, 2008 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Obama will need to visit Iraq if he wants to win the election. Not on the McCain "it's just like Indiana" tour, but he will need to go with his security advisors if he's going to win the election. Its politics, and that's it.

Posted by: Owen on May 31, 2008 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should be visiting Afghanistan too, in order to remind voters that McCain supported abandoning it to al Qaeda.

Posted by: Owen on May 31, 2008 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK


"As you know, you go into a speech with the tense you have, not the tense you might want or wish to have at some later date."

Posted by: biggerbox on May 31, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

McCain is a maverick Time Lord.

Posted by: the master on May 31, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on May 31, 2008 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK
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