November 26 / 27, 2005
He Pointed the Way Out; They Chopped Off His Hand
How the Democrats Undercut John Murtha
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
Here we have one of the most widely derided presidents in the history
of the United States and a war abhorred by a majority of all Americans
and the Democrats have near zero traction as a credible party of
opposition. The sequence of events after Representative Jack Murtha's
speech on Capitol Hill on November 17 tells the story.
It truly was a great speech, as the Marine veteran (37 years in the US
Marine Corps, then 31 years in Congress) actually delivered it with
extempore additions to the prepared text handed out after his news
Listen to Murtha and you are hearing how the US commanders in Iraq
really see the situation. Murtha is trusted by the military and has
visited Iraq often. "Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are
on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has
lowed its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is
the lowest category, which they said they'd never take. Much of our
ground equipment is worn out."
On Iraq's condition: "Oil production and energy production are below
prewar level. You remember they said that was going to pay for the war,
and it's below prewar level. Our reconstruction efforts have been
crippled by the security situation. Only $9 billion of $18 billion
appropriated for reconstruction has been spent. Unemployment is 60
percentClean water is scarce and they only spent $500 million of the
$2.2 billion appropriated for water projects.
"And, most importantly -- this is the most important point - incidents
have increased from 150 a week to over 700 in the last year."
Then, amid his tears, came Murtha's sketches of war's consequences in
"Now, let me personalize this thing for youI have a young fellow in
my district who was blinded and he lost his foot. And they did
everything they could for him at Walter Reed, then they sent him home.
His father was in jail; he had nobody at home -- imagine this: young kid
that age -- 22, 23 years old -- goes home to nobody. V.A. did everything
they could do to help him. He was reaching out, so they sent him -- to
make sure that he was blind, they sent him to John Hopkins. John Hopkins
started to send him bills. Then the collection agency started sending
billsImagine, a young person being blinded, without a foot, and he's
getting bills from a collection agency."
And finally, Murtha's call for rapid pullout of US troops from Iraq
capped by one of the most amazing resumes of political reality ever
administered to an audience on Capitol Hill:
"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: The United States will
immediately redeploy -- immediately redeploy. All of Iraq must know that
Iraq is free, free from a United States occupation. And I believe this
will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process."
This was no wimp. This was a 73-year old Marine veteran with Purple
Hearts and Bronze Star, one of the Armed Forces' most constant
supporters. What more credible advocate a speedy end to an unpopular war
could the Democrats ever hope for?
Barely had he stopped speaking before the halls of Congress echoed with
the squeaks Democrats whimpering with panic as they skipped clear of
Murtha's shadow. Emboldening the White House to savage Murtha, John
Kerry hurried before the cameras of MSNBC to frag the Pennsylvania
congressman and to tell Chris Mathews how he, John Kerry, had a better
plan, involving something in the nature of a schedule for withdrawal
possibly limping into action in 2006.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats' leader in the House abruptly retreated
from a scheduled pres conference to express support for Murtha. Scenting
weakness, the Republicans put up a resolution calling for withdrawal
now. Democratic panic escalated into pell mell retreat, shouting back
over their shoulders that they weren't going to fall for such a dirty
Republican trick. Why not? What better chance will they get to go on
record against the war? In the end just three Democrats (Cynthia
McKinney of Georgia, Jose Serrano of New York, and Robert Wexler of
Florida voted for immediate withdrawal and six voted "present").
McKinney put it starkly:
"I will not vote to give one more soldier to the George W. Bush/Dick
Cheney war machine. A vote on war is the single most important vote we
can make in this House. I understand the feelings of my colleagues on
both sides of the aisle who might be severely conflicted by the decision
we have to make here tonight. But the facts of US occupation of Iraq are
also very clear."
They may be clear to McKinney, and Murtha and 60 per cent of the
American people, but not to the three Democratic Senators interested in
the presidential nomination in 2008. Even after Murtha's lead Russell
Feingold continued to mumble about the "target date" for withdrawal
being 2006, as does Kerry. For her part Hillary Clinton announced at the
start of Thanksgiving week that an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq
would be "a big mistake" which "would cause more problems for us in
America. It will matter to us if Iraq totally collapses into civil war,
if it becomes a failed state"
The importance of Murtha's speech was that it vaulted over these
laboriously prudent schedules into the reality of what is actually
happening in Iraq. As his military sources in Iraq most certainly urged
him to point out, the main fuel for the Sunni Arab insurgency is foreign
occupation. So long as it continues the resistance is likely to go on. .
The idea that the Sunni taking part in the election somehow means a
shift from military action is also baloney.
Would there actually be a power vacuum if US withdrew, followed by
civil war, as is widely argued in the U.S.? The Sunni can't take
Baghdad. They can't penetrate the main Kurdish and Shia areas. How
exactly is the US military preventing a civil war at the moment? The
refusal of the Shia to retaliate is the most important factor here and
this is primarily the result of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani standing
firmly against it.
Now suppose Sistani calls for a withdrawal? Then the US and Britain
will have little choice but to go, probably over an 18 month period.
This very week, incidentally, a gathering in Cairo of Sunni, Shiite, and
Kurdish leaders (under the auspices of the Arab League) called for a
timetable for US withdrawal and also said that Iraq's opposition had a
"legitimate right to resistance." The Sunni are not going to stop
fighting while the occupation continues. The quid pro quo for the US
leaving would presumably be a ceasefire by the Sunni and an end to
suicide bombing attacks.
All those Democratic Party withdrawal dates are predicated on the idea
that Iraqi army security forces will be built up and can take over. This
scenario is as unrealistic as calls to "internationalize" the occupying
force. All the evidence is that only an agreement on the departure of
the US will lead to an end to the armed resistance, just as Murtha said.
The idea that the Sunni taking part in the election somehow means a
shift from military action is also baloney. It is clearly an 'Armalite
and ballot box' strategy.
The Evolving Postures of Prof. Juan Cole
First the professor from the University of Michigan, influential in
liberal circles as an expert on Iraq, said he wanted withdrawal. Then he
said that to urge withdrawal would be advocacy of genocide. Then this,
on his website. Can you figure out what he wants?
Cockburn Misrepresents Cole
Alexander Cockburn says in his piece in The Nation: 'Cole says to The
Nation Institute's Tom Engelhardt that for the United States to "up and
leave" Iraq would be to become an accomplice to genocide. He counsels
the heightened use in Iraq of "special forces and air power." In other
words, assassinations and saturation bombing.'
Cockburn is referring to my interview with Tom Engelhardt.
I actually haven't called for any assassinations or saturation
bombing, and Mr. Cockburn's "In other words" is just a trite way to open
up a mendacious smear.
For the thousandth time, what I have in mind is that in the wake of a
substantial drawdown of US troops (which I think advisable), a civil war
may well break out in Iraq. It is also likely that Sunni Arab militiamen
will attempt to kill the members of the current government. (I mean,
they are already trying to kill them, they just aren't usually