Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on Senator John McCain's conclusion that it's "not too important" when American forces come home from Iraq.
Thoughts, offered more in sorrow, than in anger.
For two full days now, the Senator and his supporters have been outraged at what they see as the subtraction of context from this extraordinary remark.
This is, sadly, the excuse of our time, for everything.
Still. If the Senator claims truncation, we will correct that, first.
"A lot of people," Matt Lauer began, "now say the surge is working."
"Anybody who knows the facts on the ground say that," the Senator interjected.
"If it's now working, Senator," Matt continued, "do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?"
"No," answered McCain. "But that's not too important. What's important is the casualties in Iraq. Americans are in South Korea. Americans are in Japan. American troops are in Germany.
"That's all fine. American casualties and the ability to withdraw. We will be able to withdraw. General Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are. But the key to it is we don't want any more Americans in harm's way.
"And that way they will be safe, and serve our country, and come home with honor and victory - not in defeat, which is what Senator Obama's proposal would have done. And I'm proud of them, and they're doing a great job. And we are succeeding. And it's fascinating that Senator Obama still doesn't realize it."
And there is the context of what Senator McCain said.
Well… not quite, Senator.
The full context is that the Iraq you see is a figment of your imagination.
This is not a war about "honor and victory," sir.
This is a war you, and the President you support and seek to succeed, conned this nation into.
Of the prospect of war in Iraq, you said, quote,
"I believe that success will be fairly easy."
John McCain… September 24th, 2002.
"I believe that we can win an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time."
John McCain… September 29th, 2002.
Of the ouster of Saddam and the Baathists:
"There's no doubt in my mind that once these people are gone, that we will be welcomed as liberators."
John McCain… March 24th, 2003.
Asked, about a long-term commitment in Iraq, quote, "are you talking about something in terms of South Korea, for instance, where you would expect U.S. troops to be in Iraq for decades?"
"No," you answered. "I don't think decades, but I think years. A little straight talk, I think years. And I hope that we can gradually reduce that presence."
John McCain… March 18th, 2004.
You were asked about the troops, and the future.
"I would hope that we could bring them all home. I would hope that we would probably, leave, some military advisers, as we have in other countries, to help them with their training and equipment and that kind of stuff.
"…I think one of our big problems has been the fact that many Iraqis resent American military presence. And I don't pretend to know exactly Iraqi public opinion. But as soon as we can reduce our visibility as much as possible, the better I think it is going to be."
John McCain… January 31st. 2005
When a speaker at your town hall, five months ago, referenced the President's forecast that we might stay in Iraq for 50 years, you cut him off.
"Make it a hundred! We've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea 50 years or so. That would be fine with me. As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. That's fine by me…"
John McCain… January 3rd, 2008.
And your forecast of your hypothetical first term.
"By January, 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq war has been won."
John McCain… May 15th, 2008.
That, Senator McCain, is context.
You have attested to: a fairly easy success; an overwhelming victory in a very short period of time; in which we would be welcomed as liberators; which you assured us would not require our troops stay for decades but merely for years; from which we could bring them all home, since you noted many Iraqis resent American military presence; in which all those troops coming home will also stay there, not being injured, for a hundred years; but most will be back by 2013; and the timing of their return, is… not… that… important.
That, Senator McCain, is context.
And that, Senator McCain, is madness.
The Government Accountability Office just released a study Tuesday that concludes that one out of every ten soldiers sent to Iraq, takes with them medical problems "severe enough to significantly limit their ability to fight."
In five years, we have now sent 43,000 of them to war even though they were already wounded.
And when they come home, Is. Not. That. Important.
Jalal al Din al Sagir, a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and Ali al Adeeb, of the rival Dawa Political Party, gave a series of interviews last week about the particulars of this country's demand for a "Status of Forces" agreement with Iraq — a treaty which Mr. Bush does not intend to show Congress before he signs it.
The Iraqi politicians say the treaty demands Iraq's consent to the establishment of nearly double the number of U-S military bases in Iraq — from about 30, to 58, and from temporary, to permanent.
Those will be American men and women who must, of necessity, staff these bases - staff them, in Mr. McCain's MC Escher dream world in which our people can all come home while they stay there for a hundred years but they'll be back by 2013.
And when they come home, Is. Not. That. Important.
Last year, a 20-year old soldier from the Bronx, on the day of his re-deployment to a second tour in Iraq, said he just couldn't face the smell of burning flesh again. So, Jonathan Aponte paid a hit man 500 dollars… to shoot him in the knee.
Mount Sinai Hospital in New York reported treating a patient identifying himself as another Iraq-bound soldier, who claimed he had accidentally swallowed a pen at the bus station. No one doubted his story until examinations proved there was a second pen in his stomach bearing the logo of Greyhound Bus Lines.
In 2006, says his sister, a 24-year old Army Specialist from Washington State, on the eve of his second deployment, strapped a pack full of tools to his back, and then jumped off the roof of his house, injuring his spine.
And when they come home — or more correctly, all those like them who did not risk death or disability to avoid going back — when they come home, Is. Not. That. Important.
You've sold them all out, Senator.
You, whose sacrifice for this country was as all-encompassing and as horrible as the rest of us can only imagine in our darkest moments.
You, who survived, so that you could make America a better place where young men did not have to go and die in pointless wars or be maimed or be held prisoner or have to hire hit-men to shoot them in the knee because that couldn't be worse.
You, who should know better.
Where, Senator, is the man who once said "veterans hate war more than anyone else, because veterans know, because veterans know these brave Americans, and others, know, that there is nothing more painful than the loss of a comrade. Where is he, sir?
Where is the man who described that ineffable truth?
Oh, so long ago you touched the essence of the reality of Iraq. Your comments about your lost comrades, yesterday.
The men and women in Iraq, today, Senator — they are your comrades, too.
And you are condemning them to die.
To die, for your misdirections, for Mr. Bush's lies — for whoever makes the money off building 58 permanent American bases and all the weapons and all the bullets and all the wiring so costly and so slip-shod that it electrocutes our comrades as they step, not to fight freedom's enemies, but into the shower at the base.
That, Senator, that is context.
It is an easy thing to dismiss Senator McCain as a sad and befuddled figure, already challenging for some kind of campaign record for malaprops.
Just yesterday in Philadelphia he answered Senator Obama, not by defending or explaining his own "not that important" remark, but by seizing upon Obama's "bitter" remark - or trying to.
Obama had foolishly said that some, in despair, in small towns, cling to their religion and their guns.
Senator McCain vowed he'd go to those towns and tell them, "I don't agree with Senator Obama that they cling to their religion and the Constitution because they're bitter."
It was hard not to dismiss with a laugh, Senator McCain, or any Republican, for even accidentally implying that he's clung to the Constitution — not after the last seven years.
It was hard, the day before, not to become almost bemused when the Senator tried to say he would veto every single bill with earmarks, but wound up, instead, vowing "I will veto every single beer."
It was hard, this week, not to laugh at how Senator McCain could offer any serious defense against the accusation that he is running for President Bush's third term, when a 2006 interview suddenly surfaced in which McCain said he would consider Dick Cheney for a position in a McCain administration.
"I don't know if I would want him as Vice President. He and I have the same strengths. But to serve in other capacities? Hell, yeah."
These are all very funny, in a macabre yet unthreatening way.
And then one remembers Senator McCain's inability to separate Sunni and Shia, or his insistence that Iran is training Al-Qaeda for service in Iraq, and then being corrected about it, and then saying the same thing again anyway.
And then one is, inevitably, drawn back again to the overlooked substance of yesterday's remark…
"If (the surge) is now working, Senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?"
The surge is working and even that still tells Senator McCain nothing about when we can ransom our soldiers?
Wasn't that the ultimate purpose of the surge? To get them out?
If we cannot tell — if McCain cannot even guess — doesn't that, by definition, mean… the surge isn't working?
And ultimately we are drawn back to the "not… too… important" remark, in its full context:
The context of the kaleidoscope of confused rhetoric, and endless non sequiturs, and mutually exclusive conclusions — and what they add up to: a veritable tragedy, a microcosm of the American tragedy that is Iraq, a tragedy of a man who himself will never understand "the context."
Your tragedy, Senator McCain?
No. I'm sorry.
This tragedy is of Justin Mixon of Bogalusa, Louisiana.
And it's of Christopher McCarthy of Virginia Beach.
It's of Quincy Green of El Paso, and Joshua Waltenbaugh of Ford City, PA.
The tragedy is of Shane Duffy of Taunton, Mass, and Jonathan Emard of Mesquite, Texas.
It's of Cody Legg of Escondido in California, and David Hurst of Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
The tragedy is of Thomas Duncan, III, of Rowlett, Texas, and Tyler Pickett of Saratoga, Wyoming.
And who are they, Senator?
They are ten Americans who have died in Iraq since the first of this month. There are four more. The Defense Department has not yet identified the others.
And while you, Senator, may ask for all the context you can get, those ten men will never know any of it.
Because the true context here, is that if you could ask those American war heroes, or the family and the friends that loved them, if they have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq…
They could rightly say, "No. But that's. Not. That. Important."
Good night, and good luck.