Friday, November 18, 2005

A hawk flies north

Not that the antiwar movement needed a bigger gun than the thunder of its own convictions, but those opposing the debacle in Iraq gained a powerful ally yesterday, when one of the more resolute and influential hawks in Congress – a Democrat! – came out, with passion, power and an eloquence sorely lacking on Capitol Hill, against the war he had supported in 2002.

Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, a Vietnam veteran with a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, said it plainly in Washington. “It’s time to bring them home. … Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency … we have become a catalyst for violence,” he said. “The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.”

In his comments, Murtha went on to fire a smart broadside at Vice President Dick Cheney, who the night before at a black-tie event, adopted the administration party line, railing against those who want U.S. forces brought home as “dishonest,” “reprehensible,” and claiming that withdrawal now sends the wrong signal and opens the door for more insurgents, presumably emboldened by our nation's premature departure from Iraq.

“I like that,” Murtha said yesterday, with a palpable sarcasm. “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.”

The same day, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, chimed in, warning the White House to halt its ad hominem smear campaign against Iraq-war critics, calling it “a weak, spineless display of politics at a time of war.”

As expected, the administration responded aggressively. “They want us to retreat,” said Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. “They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world.”

Texas Republican Rep. Sam Johnson, himself a Vietnam veteran and a POW for seven years, weighed in as well. “We’ve got to support our troops to the hilt and see this mission through,” Johnson said, underscoring one of the fundamental administration disconnects related to public debate on the war: an eagerness to equate criticism of the war with criticism of the decent, loyal Americans sent to fight it.

In a statement, White House press secretary & mouthpiece Scott McClellan leveled another attack. “The eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists,” McClellan said. “Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America. So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.”

The vitriolic administration position against Murtha begs the question of why they think a man who has stood on principle for so long, in both his career as a public servant and as a decorated military veteran, would have suddenly vacated those principles. It escapes them that, by the very fact of his reversal, just maybe the policy positions Murtha has adopted aren’t as extreme as the administration would have Americans believe.

One problem for the Bushies is Murtha’s 31-year stature as a Congressman. As the leading Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Murtha has expertise long been sought by Democrats and Republicans. He once worked as an aide to Cheney when Cheney was secretary of defense, and he has visited Iraq numerous times. As a confidant of American forces, Murtha is thought to be that rare politician: one who’s got both the throw weight in the hallowed halls and the gravitas to speak for troops on the ground on military matters – not an easy thing for the administration to dismiss.

Murtha’s comments from Capitol Hill lead us to make a not-so-venturesome prediction: The year 2006 will be the watershed year for debate on the Iraq war. The relatively sporadic protests against the war – Cindy Sheehan’s mobile vigil; comments and reporting from disinterested international observers and journalists; the growing concern among Republican lawmakers – will coalesce into the visibly broad, transgenerational tide of fearless public sentiment that the administration has no doubt anticipated, if not feared outright.

It’s taking shape already: On Tuesday, even while defeating a Democratic plan for a firm exit timetable, the Republican-controlled Senate approved a statement of its concern, saying that 2006 should be the year in which the conditions are established for the start of a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

On Thursday, the Republic of South Korea blindsided President Bush by announcing its intention to withdraw 3,200 troops from Iraq sometime next year – an announcement that must have been a particular embarrassment to Bush, who the same day met with Asian economic leaders at a summit … in Pusan, South Korea.

And today, Sen. John Kerry, who knows a thing or three about being the victim of character assassination, spoke from the Senate floor with a novel interpretation of the oft-used Republican phrase “cut and run”:

“We are in trouble today, Mr. President, precisely because of a policy of cut and run – a policy where the administration made the wrong choice to cut and run from established procedures of gathering intelligence … to cut and run from the best military advice, to cut and run from sensible wartime planning, to cut and run from their responsibility to properly arm and protect our troops, to cut and run from history’s clear lessons about the Middle East and about Iraq itself – to cut and run from common sense.”

Another example of the cut-and-run was suggested in a retort from Arizona GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, who spoke right after Kerry did. Kyl resorted to the longstanding Republican “choral error” argument in defending the decision to go to war, saying (again) that the United States had a lot of company in its prewar assessments of Iraq’s danger.

“Our intelligence, and that of virtually every other nation in the world, believed that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world and had weapons of mass destruction, and in some cases was developing capability for additional weapons of mass destruction,” Kyl said.

Thus was this nation led into the single most disastrous American military misadventure since Vietnam – by cutting and running from the facts: Not waging war on the basis of knowledge but on the basis of a suspicion; not on the strength of singular intelligence singularly arrived at but on the strength of groupthink, assumptions and a deviously cultivated fear.

And at the end of the day, it’s not prewar intelligence that’s the pivotal issue, despite the vituperative claims and counterclaims of those in Congress. The real issue up for debate is the actions taken by the United States even after the inaccuracy of our prewar intelligence was well-established. Long after that prewar intel was found to be toweringly wrong – the aluminum tubes Colin Powell demonized at the United Nations; the yellowcake uranium found not to even exist; the fictional linkage of 9/11 and the Iraqi regime – this nation persisted in following a military course of action, which strongly suggests that course of action was what the administration intended to pursue all along, no matter what the facts were.

Jack Murtha’s courageous stand – one of several he’s taken in the last thirty-five years – really shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s a case of a hawk having the nerve to fly north for the winter, breaking from a flock still largely heading in the other direction. Murtha’s a bird of a different feather; sooner or later, others are likely to join him. Once again, the chickens are coming home to roost.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...