You have to hand it to McCain for stubbornly holding to an increasingly unpopular position regarding the war in Iraq (though on many other issues he has flip-flopped) during what can very well be a watershed election year.
McCain is counting on the "surge" to be the centerpiece of his campaign, where he has repeatedly mentioned that he is the only candidate to have vocally condemned the Rumsfeld strategy, arguing it wouldn't work, but believing the Petraeus strategy (devised by the White House) would work.
Certainly I won't argue that in terms of the "surge" itself, a majority of Americans do believe it has been moderately successful thus far. Nonetheless, the "surge" has NOT improved opinions of the war in Iraq and how it's being handled whatsoever and, in fact, opposition to the war has INCREASED despite the moderate signs of success many Americans perceive with the "surge" strategy.
And it doesn't surprise me whatsoever that a strong majority of Americans remain solid in their opinion on this war. Anyway, it was NOT the "surge" that resulted in the routing of al-Qaeda in Iraq; the routing of AQI in Iraq pre-dated the "surge" by months when many Sunni tribal leaders in the Anbar Province saw these brutal militants for who they really are; a bunch of hateful individuals who went too far with its extreme version of Islam and brutal tactics like suicide bombs targeting all who opposed them......and banded together in rebellion to retaliate against them in battle. al-Qaeda overplayed their hand in the region, and they got their comeuppance in result.
Besides that, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) only represents a small fraction of the insurgent violence in Iraq. The U.S.-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in March analyzed the online postings of eleven prominent Sunni insurgent groups, including AQI, tallying how many attacks each group claimed, and found that AQI took credit for 10% of attacks on Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias (43 out of 439 attacks) and less than 4 percent of attacks on U.S. troops (17 out of 357)
Secondly, military officials told the New York Times in August of last year that of the approximately 24,500 prisoners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq (nearly all of whom are Sunni) just 1,800 of them (about 7%) claim allegiance to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Thirdly, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), often said to have the best track record for producing accurate intelligence assessments, estimated in 2006 that AQI's membership was in a range of "more than 1,000." They estimated that the total size of the insurgency was between 20,000 and 30,000 full-time fighters, thus putting AQI forces at around 5 percent.
Finally, foreign policy experts such as Malcolm Nance, the author of The Terrorists of Iraq and a longtime intelligence veteran and Arabic speaker, who has worked with military and intelligence units tracking al-Qaeda inside Iraq for twenty years, has said he believes AQI includes about 850 full-time fighters, comprising 2 percent to 5 percent of the Sunni insurgency, adding: "Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a microscopic terrorist organization."
This doesn't at all diminish how dangerous and real the threat of AQI is by any means, nor that the fact al-Qaeda in Iraq is being routed is an encouraging achievement. But the point is AQI is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the overall shape of insurgency violence in Iraq. In fact, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have recently agreed that while some Sunni insurgent violence has been on the decline, Shi'ite insurgent violence is on the rise, thus the anti-insurgency campaign is becoming ever more complex and unpredictable.
So while I'm sure every American is glad that Iraq has been much quieter sttack-wise in the past several months, I believe it is really because the nature of the insurgency is in a transitional stage where, as the Department of Defense is re-alligning with Sunni Arab states with the proposed $10 billion arms deal to confront Shi'ite warlords and increase pressure on Iran to halt their uranium-enrichment program, you're going to see a steadily increasing torrent of new attacks among radical Shi'ite factions, as well as renewed violence among Sunni tribal leaders, as they have been sympathizers of the insurgency even while they loathe al-Qaeda as well.
As much as I commend McCain for his brave service to our nation, and sympathize with the many atrocities of war and torture he has experienced and believe such events tend to heighten ones understanding of the nature of military conflicts in general.....I simply don't trust McCain whatsoever as a commander-in-chief, finding it unfortunate that he went from having a realist view on foreign policy that we ought only to get involved in overseas conflicts when our national interests are at stake and when we were threatened with immense military force after getting out of Vietnam, to a reckless, neocon mindset on national security beginning in 1999, when he staunchly deified every word coming out of Ahmad Chalabi's mouth, pushed for conflict in the Balkans, to being so insistent on regime change in Iran that he had the gall to joke about it on camera, humming "Bomb. Bomb. Bomb Iran!" to the melody of a Beach Boys tune, where his campaign in the past decade has been undulated with those very neoconservative advisors who have been responsible in bogging us down in Iraq in the first place.....and I can bet that the day Giuliani flundered in the Florida primary he bet all his chips on, it was the neoconservatives who were at the time affliated with his campaign who chanted "Mac is back!" louder than most.
As long as McCain chooses to make this election about Iraq, he will inevitably lose the battle of public opinion. When it comes to the question if Americans think that removing Saddam Hussein from power was or was not worth the number of U.S. military casualties and the financial cost of the war, more Americans say it wasn't worth it now than they did when the "surge" was first announced, as well as believing that this war was "not worth fighting".
So, to finally answer your question, John, I believe the consequences of us pushing a phased withdrawal that will pull all our troops, minus a small coalition of them who will protect the U.S Embassy, translators, etc. would be far less damaging than the consequences of us staying there for another 100 years, as McCain has actually suggested on camera could be a possibility, where it will only foment deadlier violence like any foreign intervention would on another people's culture. I don't doubt that, potentially, terrible ethnic violence could occur, but I believe it would potentially happen no matter if we stay or go, and at the very least the sooner we go, the sooner we spare our own nation of higher national debt and foreign borrowing in result of a policy that is approaching perhaps $2 trillion when all is said and done.
"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other"