In early January, at a town hall-style campaign event for Sen. John McCain in Derry, N.H., a man in the audience stood to ask the Republican presidential candidate a question about his support for the war in Iraq.
What followed was an extraordinary discussion that lasted six minutes. McCain predicted that Gen. David Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy would eventually make Iraq more secure, allowing economic, social and political progress to take place.
"What happens is American troops withdraw and they withdraw to bases and then they eventually withdraw, or we reach an agreement like we have in South Korea, with Japan," he said. "We still have troops in Bosnia."
The man in the audience wasn't satisfied. We weren't at war in those countries, he said. And he questioned whether the troop surge in Iraq was truly succeeding, as McCain had asserted.
"I do not believe that one U.S. soldier being killed almost every day is success," he said to McCain. "There were three U.S. soldiers killed today. I want to know how long are we going to be there?"
Back and forth it went until the man started to ask another question. "President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years --"
McCain interrupted with words that have haunted him ever since.
He said either "Maybe a 100," or "Make it 100."
McCain continued: "We've been in South Korea, we've been in Japan for 60 years. We've been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That'd be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. Then it's fine with me. I would hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day."
With that comment, McCain handed his Democratic opponents and war critics a weapon with which to bludgeon him all the way to Election Day in November. And it didn't take long for the bludgeoning to begin.
By early February, as it became clear that McCain would emerge the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, the Democratic National Committee sent out a fundraising letter portraying McCain as favoring "an endless war" in Iraq.
Last week, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean blasted McCain as "a blatant opportunist who doesn't understand the economy and is promising to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years."
Sen. Hillary Clinton's camp continually blasts him for the 100-year remark. The Democratic presidential candidate said this month McCain "is willing to keep this war going for 100 years." She vows to remove U.S. troops from Iraq. But a year ago, she told The New York Times that as president she would leave some unspecified number of U.S. forces to protect "remaining vital national security interests in Iraq."
The article said: "She declined to estimate the number of American troops she would keep in Iraq, saying she would draw on the advice of military officers." That position does not appear to be much different than what McCain was saying in Derry, minus the 100-year quip.
Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said, "We are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests might go on for another 100 years."
This weekend, the Republican National Committee fired back at Obama.