Wednesday, November 23, 2005

EDITORIAL >> Murtha’s clarion call

It can be recorded that on the sere autumn day of the 17th of November in Washington, D.C., the great American tragedy of Iraq reached its denouement when the end if not the absolute solution could be seen clearly.

It was the day U.S. Rep. John Murtha, quite an obscure man for most Americans, said that the United States should very soon withdraw nearly all of its troops from Iraq and redeploy them.

Men and women of far greater stature had criticized the war and called for withdrawal without causing a blip in the enduring discourse on the war. But after the war speech by the meek Pennsylvanian, the Bush administration’s favorite Democrat, the White House went on the attack.
President Bush, Vice President Cheney, GOP leaders called him disloyal, a boon to terrorists, the exponent of traitorous ideas that gave succor to the enemies of freedom and discouragement to our troops.

Three days later, the administration had reconsidered and called Murtha a patriotic American, just a wrongheaded one.
Perhaps the president had divined that Murtha was not right, at least most Americans believed that he was. Murtha said he was far behind the American people. A decorated war hero and the military’s best friend in Congress, Murtha was a firm advocate of the invasion of Iraq and one of Bush’s few defenders on the Democratic side.

What Murtha offered on the 17th was not another broadside against the administration but a thoughtful and detailed analysis of the war and a way out of it, which even Republicans in Congress are beginning to demand that the administration formulate.

He would pull nearly all foreign troops from Iraqi soil in phases over six months, bring Reservists and Guardsmen home and redeploy troops in the region as a fast-strike force. Security and stability in Iraq would be pursued diplomatically.

While Bush and Cheney continue to say the United States will stay the course and remain in Iraq until it is a secure and prosperous democracy, sometime before the midterm elections in 2006 the government, probably over Cheney’s private objections, will embrace something like Murtha’s strategy. When close to 70 percent of Americans believe the war was wrong or badly conducted, an administration that makes a religion of politics will have no choice.

Forget the debate over whether the administration cooked the evidence for invading Iraq. If there is one thing clear about this murky war it is that regardless of the valorous and humanitarian work of our warriors, we are getting no closer to winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis or of securing the safety of the people or the stability of their government. Iraqi security forces will never secure the country as long as we are willing to do it for them.

Murtha thought it was imperative to end the war because U.S. presence was feeding the insurgency and radicalism in a country that had always eschewed religious extremism and, under Saddam Hussein, even butchered it. As long as U.S. troops are around, even the elected government will be seen as puppets, which may explain why it called for an early withdrawal of our military. It is hard to argue that withdrawal will lead to chaos when we see it every day in the rubble and the blood-streaked faces of innocent Iraqi citizens.
But Murtha had a more heartfelt reason. The military that he loves is deteriorating daily.

Readiness is strained, recruiting has collapsed, ground equipment is worn out and soldiers are unprotected, procurement corruption is rampant and troops are fatigued after two and sometimes three tours of duty.

He may have remembered the explanation by Gen. Maxwell Taylor, the Army chief of staff, for America’s departure from Vietnam. We went there to save Vietnam and got out to save the U.S. Army.