John Murtha Calls for Iraq Pullout
Congressman John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat on the defense appropriatios subcommittee, has called for the immediate pullout of troops from Iraq. Since Congressman say stupid things on a regular basis, I ignored the story even after several e-mailed press releases. Still, given his prominence, this is a noteworthy story.
An influential House Democrat who voted for the Iraq war called Thursday for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, another sign of growing unease in Congress about the conflict. “It is time for a change in direction,” said Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., one of Congress’ most hawkish Democrats. “Our military is suffering, the future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region.”
House Republicans assailed Murtha’s position as one of abandonment and surrender, and accused Democrats of playing politics with the war. “They want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world,” Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said.
Murtha estimated that all U.S. troops could be pulled out within six months. A Vietnam veteran, he choked back tears during his remarks to reporters. Murtha’s comments came just two days after the Senate voted to approve a statement that 2006 “should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty” to create the conditions for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces.
In recent days, President Bush and other top administration officials have lashed out at critics of the war and have accused Democrats of advocating a “cut and run” strategy that will only embolden the insurgency. Vice President Dick Cheney jumped into the fray Wednesday by assailing Democrats who contend the Bush administration manipulated intelligence on Iraq, calling their criticism “one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.”
Murtha, a Marine intelligence officer in Vietnam, angrily shot back at Cheney: “I like guys who’ve never been there that criticize us who’ve been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don’t like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.” Referring to Bush, Murtha added: “I resent the fact, on Veterans Day, he criticized Democrats for criticizing them.”
The top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Murtha has earned bipartisan respect for his work on military issues over three decades in Congress. He planned to introduce a resolution Thursday that, if passed by both the House and the Senate, would force the president to withdraw U.S. troops.
Murtha is indeed a Marine Corps veteran who served on active duty during two wars. (active 1952-55, 1966-67; USMCR, 1955-66, 1967-90). Still, the tired “chickenhawk” argument is beneath him. I’ve written repeated posts on that subject (my most recent has links to the previous ones) so won’t belabor it again here.
That said, Hastert’s nonsense, “They want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world,” is also contemptible. There’s no doubt there are those in that camp; Murtha ain’t one of them. Ad hominen is just a lousy way to advance an argument in a civilized society. I disagree with Murtha’s views here but his position should be debated on substantive, not personal, grounds.
Murtha’s press release:
The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We can not continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.
That’s a lot of unsupported assertions in one paragraph.
General Casey said in a September 2005 Hearing, Ã¢€œthe perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency.Ã¢€ General Abizaid said on the same date, Ã¢€œReducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is a part of our counterinsurgency strategy.Ã¢€
True. Our existing strategy.
For 2 Ã‚½ years I have been concerned about the U.S. policy and the plan in Iraq. I have addressed my concerns with the Administration and the Pentagon and have spoken out in public about my concerns. The main reason for going to war has been discredited. A few days before the start of the war I was in Kuwait Ã¢€“ the military drew a red line around Baghdad and said when U.S. forces cross that line they will be attacked by the Iraqis with Weapons of Mass Destruction Ã¢€“ but the US forces said they were prepared. They had well trained forces with the appropriate protective gear.
These are non sequiturs. We thought the same thing in Gulf War I. When the war started, the troops on the ground donned MOPP suits. Surely, someone who spent that many years in the Marines would expect our troops to go in prepared for the worst case.
We spend more money on Intelligence than all the countries in the world together, and more on Intelligence than most countries GDP. But the intelligence concerning Iraq was wrong. It is not a world intelligence failure. It is a U.S. intelligence failure and the way that intelligence was misused.
I don’t really see the relevance. Our economy dwarfs that of almost any other country and our expenditures are, likewise, massive. The failures on Iraq intelligence were global, though, and virtually uniform. But what has that to do with bringing the troops home immediately?
I have been visiting our wounded troops at Bethesda and Walter Reed hospitals almost every week since the beginning of the War. And what demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace; the devastation caused by IEDs; being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by hurricanes; being on their second or third deployment and leaving their families behind without a network of support.
Wounded soldiers are a tragedy and there’s no doubt that the military life is difficult. But asking tired, wounded soldiers about their morale really doesn’t tell us much about grand national strategy.
The threat posed by terrorism is real, but we have other threats that cannot be ignored. We must be prepared to face all threats. The future of our military is at risk. Our military and their families are stretched thin. Many say that the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on their third deployment. Recruitment is down, even as our military has lowered its standards. Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made. We can not allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care, to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away. We must be prepared. The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls at our bases in the U.S.
This is another rapid-fire set of assertions, mostly emotional, that seem only tangentially related to the issue. Either the Iraq mission is worthwhile or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then we shouldn’t be spending money on it regardless of our other costs. If it is, then we can surely find the money.
Much of our ground equipment is worn out and in need of either serious overhaul or replacement. George Washington said, Ã¢€œTo be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.Ã¢€ We must rebuild our Army. Our deficit is growing out of control. The Director of the Congressional Budget Office recently admitted to being Ã¢€œterrifiedÃ¢€ about the budget deficit in the coming decades. This is the first prolonged war we have fought with three years of tax cuts, without full mobilization of American industry and without a draft. The burden of this war has not been shared equally; the military and their families are shouldering this burden.
Again, irrelevant. If equipment needs replacing, replace it. If we need a draft, start one. But of course military volunteers will bear the burden of a war. That’s what they do for a living. Firefighters and their families bear the burden of forest fires, too. Does Murtha suggest we therefore quit fighting them?
Our military has been fighting a war in Iraq for over two and a half years. Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty. Our military captured Saddam Hussein, and captured or killed his closest associates. But the war continues to intensify. Deaths and injuries are growing, with over 2,079 confirmed American deaths. Over 15,500 have been seriously injured and it is estimated that over 50,000 will suffer from battle fatigue. There have been reports of at least 30,000 Iraqi civilian deaths.
This is absurd. In what sense has the military “accomplished its mission”? Indeed, the remainder of the paragraph would seem a refutation of that.
I just recently visited Anbar Province Iraq in order to assess the conditions on the ground. Last May 2005, as part of the Emergency Supplemental Spending Bill, the House included the Moran Amendment, which was accepted in Conference, and which required the Secretary of Defense to submit quarterly reports to Congress in order to more accurately measure stability and security in Iraq. We have now received two reports. I am disturbed by the findings in key indicator areas. Oil production and energy production are below pre-war levels. Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by the security situation. Only $9 billion of the $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment remains at about 60 percent. Clean water is scarce. Only $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects has been spent. And most importantly, insurgent incidents have increased from about 150 per week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over time and with the addition of more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revelations at Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled. An annual State Department report in 2004 indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism.
So, the answer is to stop the war? The one in which “Our military has accomplished its mission”?
I said over a year ago, and now the military and the Administration agrees, Iraq can not be won Ã¢€œmilitarily.Ã¢€ I said two years ago, the key to progress in Iraq is to Iraqitize, Internationalize and Energize. I believe the same today. But I have concluded that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress.
No one, certainly not the Bush administration, has ever said it could be won solely through the force of arms. That does not mean arms are unnecessary.
Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, Saddamists and foreign jihadists. I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraqi security forces will be incentivized to take control. A poll recently conducted shows that over 80% of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops, and about 45% of the Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified. I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis.
I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice that the United States will immediately redeploy. All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United States occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a Ã¢€œfreeÃ¢€ Iraq.
This is debatable. Certainly, having American troops in Iraq was a catalyst for the stream of jihadists coming into Iraq to fight. It has been months, though, since our troops have been “the primary target,” with the terrorists seeming to prefer softer targets. And does Murtha really think Iraq will be more free if America abandons them in the middle of this?
My plan calls:
To immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces.
To create a quick reaction force in the region.
To create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines.
To diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq
That’s not a plan; it’s a wish. Further, it’s a contradictory one. If we take the troops out, we almost surely will not be able to manage the political will to reinsurt them in “quick reaction” using “over-the-horizon” Marines.
And does Murtha think we’re not using diplomacy now? If diplomacy without armaments is like music without instruments, does he think the diplomats will be more effective after the withdrawal? Really?
This war needs to be personalized. As I said before I have visited with the severely wounded of this war. They are suffering.
Which wars have we prosecuted successfully by personalizing each loss?
Because we in Congress are charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle, it is our responsibility, our OBLIGATION to speak out for them. ThatÃ¢€™s why I am speaking out.
Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the U.S. can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. IT IS TIME TO BRING THEM HOME.
But you haven’t demonstrated anything of the sort.
Dan Spencer contends,
It doesn’t matter if no one else seconds Murtha’s call for immediate withdrawal. The damage has been done. Bin Laden and Zarqawi and their followers can only be encouraged now that some of America’s so-called leaders want to call it quits. From the evil doers perspective, all they have to do is fight on a little longer, kill more Americans, and we will leave.
Well, no. It’s rather clear the administration is not persuaded by Murtha’s arguments and, although the public has misgivings on the war, there’s no indication pullout is imminent. Regardless, we’ve got to be able to debate matters of war and peace.
Kevin Drum, though, disagrees:
I don’t know if this is a Walter Cronkite moment or anything, but […]
My prediction: we’ve already started to see this, but I think Republicans are about to crumble. Pressure on the White House to use the December elections as an excuse to declare victory and go home is going to mount, fueled by equal parts disgust with Dick Cheney’s lobbying for the right to torture; unease even among Republicans that the president wasn’t honest during the marketing of the war; lack of progress on the ground in Iraq; Congress reasserting its independence of the executive; a genuine belief that the American presence has become counterproductive; and raw electoral fear, what with midterm elections looming in less than a year.
Both Drum and Spencer point to Rod Dreher‘s post at The Corner:
CNN didn’t air the entire thing, but as I listened to it, I could feel the ground shift. Murtha, as you know, is not a Pelosi-style Chardonnay Democrat; he’s a crusty retired career Marine who reminds me of the kinds of beer-slugging Democrats we used to have before the cultural left took over the party. Murtha, a conservative Dem who voted for the war, talked in detail about the sacrifices being borne by our soldiers and their families, and about his visits out to Walter Reed to look after the maimed, and how we’ve had enough, it’s time to come home. He was hell on the president too.
If tough, non-effete guys like Murtha are willing to go this far, and can make the case in ways that Red America can relate to — and listening to him talk was like listening to my dad, who’s about the same age, and his hunting buddies — then the president is in big trouble. I’m sure there’s going to be an anti-Murtha pile-on in the conservative blogosphere, but from where I sit, conservatives would be fools not to take this man seriously.
Jeff Goldstein, though, retorts:
It’s quite possible to take someone like Murtha seriously (perhaps he truly is passionate in his convictions, irrelevant though that may be) and to find him absolutely and unabashedly wrong at the same time. At which point, our taking him seriously on the strength of his emotional appeals has very little whatever to do with how we should regard the war in Iraq, which, from a truly dispassionate standpoint, we simply cannot afford to lose.
Dreher suggests that he is simply warning conservatives that once they lose people like Murtha, the war effort is in trouble. But the fact of the matter is, the war effort is only in trouble if people like Dreher—writing for the National Review—continue to make a big deal out of losing every Democrat like Murtha, who has clearly allowed emotionalism to cloud his better judgment.
Or, perhaps he’s applying judgment and cloaking it in emotional terms. But it’ll take more than an emotional, non-sensical speech by someone few Americans have heard of to turn the tide. Murtha’s not exactly Cronkite in terms of public suasion.