Murtha: Surge is Working

John Murtha: Surge is Working Photo Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa) calls for the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel from Iraq while at a news conference on Capitol Hill November 17, 2005. (Larry Downing/Reuters) While many war supporters have been pointing to security improvements in Iraq as evidence that the Surge is working for weeks, the meme got a significant boost yesterday from an unlikely source: Congressman Jack Murtha.

U.S. Rep. John Murtha today said he saw signs of military progress during a brief trip to Iraq last week, but he warned that Iraqis need to play a larger role in providing their own security and the Bush administration still must develop an exit strategy.

“I think the ‘surge’ is working,” the Democrat said in a videoconference from his Johnstown office, describing the president’s decision to commit more than 20,000 additional combat troops this year. But the Iraqis “have got to take care of themselves.”

Violence has dropped significantly in recent months, but Mr. Murtha said he was most encouraged by changes in the once-volatile Anbar province, where locals have started working closely with U.S. forces to isolate insurgents linked to Al Qaeda. He said Iraqis need to duplicate that success at the national level, but the central government in Baghdad is “dysfunctional.”

Mr. Murtha’s four day-trip took him to a Thanksgiving dinner with troops in Kuwait last Thursday, and he then made stops in Iraq, Turkey and Belgium.

Murtha’s comments are getting plenty of attention around the blogosphere.

Bruce Kesler wins the clever headline award for, “Murtha Eats Turkey And His Hat.”

Jules Crittenden advises those hoping for Murtha to get on board the Stay the Course bandwagon, “Don’t hold your breath. Murtha won’t give up on giving up.”

AllahPundit proclaims, “Hell freezes over” and provides a video clip of Murtha from July “sneering” about the obstacles ahead.

The Politico‘s Josh Kraushaar cites the same clip.

I just don’t see it. I’ve chided Murtha for over-the-top rhetoric and flawed strategic vision since he first came on the radar screen as the face of the Withdraw Now movement. But his remarks in July were quite tempered and, indeed, essentially correct. Moreover, he’s not saying anything much different now: Despite remarkable and welcome success on the security front, the performance of the Maliki government has been dismal.

BCB’s “Gaius” dismisses the idea that Murtha is just acknowledging shifting facts on the ground: “The polls changed and so did the weather vane that is John Murtha.” Moe Lane agrees: “What’s changed? Oh, right, we’re coming up on an even-numbered year.”

The Surge has in a sense worked despite itself, with local warlords stepping in and providing political leadership in key hot spots. Despite the nonsensical idea that a retired Marine colonel and veteran of two wars wants to lose this war, Murtha is obviously pleased with the progress being made. Even so, he’s still cautioning — as are most sensible proponents of the war, such as John McCain — that there are many miles yet to go on the road to victory.

Moreover, Murtha is giving a candid assessment knowing full well that this will be the reaction. From a sheer political standpoint, failure in Iraq is good for him and his party. Despite that, Murtha is acknowledging progress.

Ed Morrissey observes of the success Murtha is now observing, “No thanks to Murtha and his defeatist ilk in Congress, of course. If the Congressional Democrats had had their way in January, we would have abandoned the Iraqis to the terrorists and left behind a failed state and destroyed credibility.”

That judgment is harsh and somewhat unfair. Honorable people disagreed about whether we could achieve our objectives in Iraq; indeed, most experts thought — and still think — it’s a longshot. It’s hardly unreasonable for those who think losing is inevitable to think we should stop getting American soldiers killed in a lost cause. Indeed, the alternative view would be despicable.

It’s almost certainly true, though, that the security situation in Iraq would be worse rather than better had we withdrawn our forces in November 2005, as Murtha urged. That’s why I’ve reluctantly urged continuing the slog. The consequences of failure here are severe. But let’s not act as if a significant number of those who disagree want failure. Or that recent progress is anything like a guarantee of eventual success.

Photo credit: Larry Downing/Reuters

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughers. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Matt T says:

    After months of bitter arguments between the so-called “Patriots” and “Defeatists” I still find this dispute over whether the Surge is working to be moot. It should hardly be surprising that when a military superpower throws resources at an enemy force, the result is at least a temporary reduction in resistance.

    The real issue here is the fact that the religiously motivated Muslim insurgency has historically fallen back during stepped up military campaigns (see Soviets in Afghanistan, American invasion of Afghan cities after 9/11, years of whack-a-mole in Iraq) only to retreat to rural areas, wait out the dominant occupying force with support from the locals, and then return at some later time when the heat has subsided.

    The failure/success of the Surge and the debate that surrounds it is myopic and irrelevant to the larger issue of whether or not a military force can stamp out the threat of radical Islam (not just in temporary stretches of time and pockets of countries, but really making Western countries safer from attack in the pure sense).


  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m with James on this. Both the triumphalism and critiques of Congressman Murtha that are issuing from some quarters of the blogosphere are overblown and misplaced. IMO they’re mostly just eager for a resolution to the Iraq situation. Aren’t we all?


  3. Jay says:

    Yes we want a resolution, always have. But from the get go the Democratic Party has salivated on the idea of defeat and sold it to the public as war is not popular and not an easy sell. Without this issue the Dem. Party would still be vastly the minority. In fact without this as a disaster the rest of their platform looks weak.


  4. Steve Plunk says:

    I find Morrissey’s words fair. Murtha has been an unreasonable agitator who has hogged the camera and called marines guilty of crimes before trial. If you are going to make such an ass of yourself expect people to enjoy the downfall of your ideas.

    Murtha’s words exposed that his concerns were more about his political party than the country. The man’s a menace in more ways than one.


  5. Hal says:

    As has been repeatedly pointed out, the surge was supposed to produce political progress. It hasn’t. So while it’s a wonderful tactical victory, the strategic goal hasn’t been advanced what so ever. The fact is, Iraq essentially has no central government, what government there is isn’t doing anything that it should to solve the problems that are still painfully there. The newly armed and supported Sunnis are making the Shiites extremely nervous and it looks like we’ve just succeeded in setting up an even more violent civil war. Things are in worse shape than they’ve ever been, politically.

    But hey, we got them tactical victories to rub in the faces of our true enemies – those who oppose us.

    We have no plan, nothing to work with in Iraq even if we did. The absolute best we can hope for is more of the same for decades to come while pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into this sink hole per year.

    Bravo! Mission accomplished.


  6. Bandit says:

    More excuses from the AQ cheerleading team