The collapse of Iraq back into a Bush-era Hell on Earth has brought the usual suspects out of the woodwork to insist that the United States should have kept sending Americans to fight and die in the hellhole that they lied us into. They include Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has been making the cable news rounds, demanding firings and trying to sell the comparison of a “residual force” in Iraq with those left in Bosnia, where there were a total of 18 U.S. casualties for the duration of that conflict.
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe Friday morning, he also compared a hypothetical U.S. residual force in Iraq with those in “Bosnia, Korea, Germany, Japan,” but it was on CNN’s New Day that McCain’s sales pitch really jumped the shark.
“It’s important for us to note that in other wars and other conflicts, we have left residual forces behind, not in a combat role, but a stabilizing role,” McCain told Chris Cuomo. “Whether it be Korea, Japan, Germany. We still have forces in Bosnia from that conflict.”
He also added “We had it won, and we needed to have a residual force.”
The key differences between those post-conflict nations and Iraq are rather obvious, as is the more apt comparison with another conflict with which McCain is intimately familiar. President George W. Bush began using the language of Vietnamization barely two years into the Iraq war, and the deeply-divided Iraq we left behind much more closely resembled Vietnam than any of those that McCain listed.
McCain’s implication is that, like in those other countries he listed, the U.S. could have kept a small force in Iraq without risk of casualties, handing out Hershey bars and training Iraqi commandos, and maybe we didn’t because we’re just yella, or something.
“We had literally no casualties there in Iraq during the last period after the surge was over,” McCain said, “and by leaving a vacuum, then that was obviously filled.”
He literally said “literally.” Watch:
The truth is, of course, that there were hundreds of U.S. casualties in Iraq following the end of “The Surge,” including 66 fatalities, 38 of them killed in combat, and 297 wounded in action. Keeping in mind McCain’s vision of the post-conflict mission, among those casualties were:
January 15, 2011 – Sgt. Michael P. Bartley, 23, of Barnhill, Ill. (and) Spc. Martin J. Lamar, 43, of Sacramento, Calif. died Jan. 15 in Mosul, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an Iraqi soldier from the unit with which they were training shot them with small arms fire. They were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
And, on September 7, 2010, weeks after the surge had ended:
An Iraqi soldier opened fire Tuesday on a group of U.S. soldiers in northern Iraq, killing two and wounding nine others, the U.S. military and the Iraqi military said.
In fact, the United States continued to take casualties right up until the last soldier left in December of 2011. Whether a “residual force” would, or could, have prevented the current situation in Iraq, it is a lie to say that they could have done so without further loss of lives and limbs. As a wounded soldier himself, John McCain ought to know better, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he just doesn’t. The next time he tries to make this claim, though, someone should set him straight.