John McCain, during the recent Republican debate, says:
I also firmly believe that the challenge of the 21st century is the struggle against radical Islamic extremism. It is a transcendent issue. It is hydra-headed. It will be with us for the rest of the century.Josh Marshall, who is skilled at doing this sort of thing, lucidly analyzes the absurdity of the remark:
Now, think about that. That's ninety-three years. My old graduate school advisor Gordon Wood used to say that humans have a very hard time seeing more than fifty years into the future. Of course, even a year into the future is difficult. But more than a few decades and we haven't the slightest idea what the world is going to look like ...The Carpetbagger Report expands on this:
But John McCain states it as a matter of fact that the war against militant Islam will still be the defining national security threat for this country in 2099 and for years after.
I know we customarily give a rather wide berth to rhetorical excess in the theater of politics. But what on earth is McCain talking about? Not long ago it was enough to sate the historical vanity of the War on Terror mongers to dub it a 'long war' or 'generational struggle', which it may well be. But apparently even that is now insufficient. Only an entire century will do. It is almost as if as the concept in the real-world present looks more and more ill-judged and foolhardy its credentials must be buffed up by giving it more and more ridiculous lifespans ranging off into the unknowable future.
We’re engaged in an undefined, open-ended war against an undetermined enemy that spans several continents and is unaffiliated with any specific nation-state. I’m rather surprised McCain was willing to limit his vision to just the 21st century.The two writers note other aspects of the "transcendence" of this struggle: for one thing, as Marshall points out, it puts McCain, Bush, and their ideological fellow-travellers beyond the realm of mere evidence -- and ultimately beyond judgment and consequences altogether: "the future is the only territory where empirical evidence or -- more plainly put -- reality can't be brought up to contradict you." I've suggested before that "victory" in Iraq, as it is postponed ad infinitum into the future by its neoconservative devotees -- always just around a corner or two -- is a similarly unassailable concept. Lest we forget, our travails in Iraq are, in the minds of the neocons, bound up conceptually into the general "long war" McCain was describing during the debate; indeed, there's no particular reason to believe that, given the unity and "transcendence" of the war as described by McCain, we should expect "victory" in Iraq to arrive at any point during the front end of that 93-year struggle. If Iraq is the front line in the war on terror, and the war on terror is expected to last a century, well...
Indeed, as long as we’re looking at this in a big-picture kind of way, a McCain-like vision of a “war on terror” can’t end until we’ve “won.” I’m curious how those who share McCain’s ideology would define “victory” in this context.
When the Middle East is dominated by democracies? That won’t do it; people can vote for terrorists. When al Qaeda is destroyed? There are other networks that can and would take its place. When religious extremists are no longer motivated by their faith to commit acts of violence? That might, um, take a while.