Via the Corner, I’m old enough to remember when a would-be president admitting this in front of a camera would have taken over the day’s news cycle, which is to say that I’m more than six years old. Remember when McCain said during the 2008 campaign that he’d keep some contingent of U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years if need be? Maverick’s point was straightforward: As long as the troops are safely stationed on bases and not taking casualties, a la American forces in Germany and Japan, no one back home should mind that they’re there. If anything, it’d be good for national security to have them pre-positioned in the region for counterterror operations in the oh-so-unlikely event that some jihadi force started to regain ground in Iraq. That turned out to be prescient but McCain was destroyed for it at the time by Democrats and the media (and later Rand Paul), all of whom cited it as evidence that he wanted a long occupation involving massive numbers of troops at a moment when the country was desperate to get out of Iraq. Now here’s Rubio, McCain’s heir apparent on immigration and foreign policy, pushing the same idea he did six year ago. Will that be as big a liability for him in 2016 as it was for Maverick in 2008?
Maybe not in the primaries.
Overall, 61 percent say they agree with O’s decision on total withdrawal — but that’s down from 75 percent in 2011 and might drop further depending upon how the war on ISIS goes. Rubio’s on firm ground strategically here too according to some U.S. commanders: Having a few thousand troops left over in Iraq might have made the difference in protecting the Sunnis from Maliki, which would have made western Iraq less hospitable to ISIS. And yet … it’s hard to believe that the electorate would reverse itself so thoroughly in the course of eight years that talking up a “permanent” military presence in the Middle East would be no great liability for a presidential nominee. Right? It’s almost a cinch that the public will be trending anti-war again in 2016 after the campaign against ISIS has slowed down and the Syrian “moderates” are turning out to be as disappointing as everyone expects. Rubio will be helped by the fact that Hillary will be running as a hawk too and might not hit him as hard for this as Paul will surely hit him in the primaries, but even Hillary’s going to have to hit him for it. Her dovish skeptics on the left might walk away if their nominee’s suddenly endorsing a permanent stay in the foreign policy toilet we know as the Middle East. There’s bound to be a cost to Rubio in saying this. But how steep is it?
While you think about that, via Breitbart and Mediaite, skip to 7:55 of the second clip below and watch Ted Cruz say that we stayed too long in Iraq and got too involved. He isn’t asked whether he’d keep some number of troops stationed there for counterterror purposes, but he’s positioning himself as the Jacksonian “bomb ’em and get out” alternative to the more neoconservative-ish Rubio and the more non-interventionist Paul. Presumably he’d prefer not to keep troops there, especially for the sort of nation-building Rubio mentions vis-a-vis those troops acting as a buffer between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites. But we’ll see: This will be a hot topic next year as righty candidates sort themselves out before the primaries. Best to start paying attention to their positions now.