I'm not surprised that the McCain campaign is getting opponents and reporters to back off the "100 years in Iraq" quote that's been dogging him. I was in the room when McCain said it, and I thought it was an entertaining tug-of-war between McCain and an anti-war questioner, not a campaign-shaking gaffe.
The wiggle room comes when McCain says he's okay with the 100 years "as long as our soldiers are not being wounded or maimed or killed." And that's where McCain's defenders have chosen to stand and fight. See, McCain doesn't want to fight a hot war for 100 years. He wants to have a base there until the Middle East stops producing threats to the U.S. To say otherwise is "an attack on McCain's character," as Michael Goldfarb puts it in that Weekly Standard link.
That's a dodge, though. It assumes that 1)there is nothing controversial about building permanent bases in Iraq, 2)that maintaining those bases would be completely positive effects on the region, and that 3)there's nothing wrong with a potential president telling the world we'll be in Iraq forever. Not much room for realpolitik there, eh? It's unfair to distort what McCain says, but it's wrong to portray this as harmless straight talk.
Headline explained here.