The Bush administration suffered a blow when Rep. Frank Murtha (D-PA) came out against the war last week. And they did all they could to make it worse for themselves. It should surprise no one that their first reaction was to try and smear Murtha by tying him to documentarian Michael Moore, whining that he's a liberal (which he's not), and wringing their hands about surrendering and retreating. Here's White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan
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 eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists. After seeing his statement, we remain baffled -- nowhere does he explain how retreating from Iraq makes America safer.
Sure. That's the one trick in their book. Make their critics themselves the issue and distort their viewpoint so no one pays attention to what their critics are actually
saying. Here's the text of the resolution
Murtha put before the House:
Whereas, Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to "promote the emergence of a democratic government";
Whereas, additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U.S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;
Whereas, more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;
Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;
Whereas, U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,
Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80 percent of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;
Whereas, polls also indicate that 45 percent of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;
Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;
Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that:
Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.
Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.
Section 3. The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.
Section 1 indicates that the current deployment should be terminated. Section 2 indicates that American forces will remain in the region (presumably in smaller numbers). And Section 3 indicates that security and stability in Iraq would still be US priorities. That doesn't sound like Michael Moore, surrendering or retreating. It sounds like a strategic pullback.
Now, I've gone back and forth on this war for a number of reasons. I find the desire to create stability, security, democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East to be a worthy goal. But on the other hand, I'm not confident this adminstration is the one to do it. And I don't trust their public pronouncements on the war. And I have a romantic attachment to peace. Yes, peace also is a worthy goal. So I've gone back and forth between support for the war and support for withdrawal.
At this point, though, I'm convinced that the number of troops we have there is not particularly significant. Yes, we need a credible force there for the short term. But here's the thing: We probably can't stomp out the jihadists and Baathists with force. We can still win the war, but we'll need to win politically as opposed to militarily. That means dealing with some of the Sunnis to create a stable Iraq. Whether we double the size of the force or cut it in half, the political challenges will remain the same. So, to me, that says we should pull some troops out. The latest development in Iraq, the Iraqis themselves calling for an American withdrawal timetable, should provide Bush with the political cover to do that. And that might shore up support for Bush just enough to make him look stronger in the eyes of the parties he's dealing with over there.
And that brings me to Bush's situation in Washington. Which is to say, his domestic weakness. His line of attack on Murtha was already sketchy. By the time Murtha was preparing to speak, the media had already developed their portrayal of the congressman as a war hero, hawk, and respected authority on the military. McClellan's line rang hollow. And then, there was Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH). (Video)
She crossed a line. And even Republicans figured it out quickly. On the floor of the House, the newest representative (she won a special election earlier this year) accused Rep. Frank Murtha, a marine who served in Vietname, of being a coward:
A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body – that we will see this through.He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body – that we will see this through.
Shortly thereafter, the House went out of order as congressmen yelled and generally got in each others' faces. When the House came back into order, Schmidt had this to say:
Mr. Speaker, my remarks were not directed to any member of the House and I did not intend to suggest they applied to any member, most especially the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania.
She backed down. Why? The only reason she would have done that is if the Republican leadership asked her to. Soon after that, Bush
both toned down the rhetoric and praised Murtha. And the state legislator she quoted now denies
he called Murtha a coward. Schmidt is twisting in the wind. Given how recent and how close (52% to 48%) her election was, she may have made herself a career-ending move
So all of this goes to show that Republican refrains of "Stay the course!" and "Criticism of Bush hurts the troops!" aren't going over quite as well anymore. Republicans lost this round. And it will have consequences in 2006, and in Iraq.