Saturday, November 19, 2005

The End of the Ice Age

I just had my first opportunity to listen to Rep. John Murtha blast the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq war and call for the troops to be brought home immediately.

It doesn't matter how much the White House tries to smear Murtha. Scott McClellan's attempt to discredit him by comparing him to Michael Moore is too pathetic for words. No two men could be more different. That's no disrespect to Moore -- but Murtha is about as far from being an antiwar activist as Jessica Simpson is from being a Rhodes Scholar. His hawk credentials are impeccable. And woe betide anyone stupid enough to impugn his courage or his military service or his support for the military. He was a Marine colonel in Vietnam; and earned two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. And he did NOT throw them over the White House fence.

I listened to Murtha's comments on CNN video, and I was amazed by his straightforwardness. It's stunning, after five years of an administration that refuses to take responsibility for anything (except invented successes), when an elected official reveals the capacity to say "This was a mistake and it was our fault." Here's Murtha on the intelligence disaster:

"We spent more money on intelligence than all the countries of the world put together. And more on intelligence than most country's GDP. And when they say it's a world intelligence failure, it's a U.S. intelligence failure. It's a U.S. failure and it's a failure in the way the intelligence was used."

Compare that to Bush's apparent inability to say anything that shows the influence of new information or a different day's reality.

Bush, traveling in South Korea, told reporters he agrees with Vice President Cheney's view that politicians who criticize the administration's handling of prewar intelligence are engaging in "dishonest and reprehensible" behavior. South Korea's Defense Ministry said today that it plans to bring home about one-third of its 3,200 troops from Iraq next year.

"I expect there to be criticism," Bush said. "But when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that's irresponsible. They looked at the same intelligence I did, and they voted -- many of them voted -- to support the decision I made. . . . So I agree with the vice president."

Murtha's response:

"I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done." Cheney did not serve in the military, and Bush was an Air National Guardsman who did not leave the United States during the Vietnam War.

Of course, Murtha was hammered by Republicans for betraying the troops:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., accused Murtha of delivering "the highest insult" to the troops. "We must not cower," Hastert lectured the old soldier.

Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., informed Murtha that his views "only embolden our enemies" and lamented that "Democrats undermine our troops in Iraq from the security of their Washington D.C. offices."

But the "burly old Marine" had a comeback for that, too (blogged straight from the video, so it sounds a little choppy, but it's accurate):

What demoralizes [the troops] is not the criticism but going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace. Being deployed to Iraq when their homes were destroyed by hurricanes. Being on their third or fourth deployment and leaving their families without a network of support. The threat by terrorism is real but we have other threats that cannot be ignored.
War in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls in our bases at home. [They are] short of things they need to train people going to Iraq. ... The burden of war has not been shared equally. Military and families are shouldering the burden.
Deaths and injuries are growing. In over 2,079 confirmed American deaths, over 15,000 been seriously injured, half of them returned to duty. And it's estimated over 50,000 will suffer from what I call battle fatigue. And there've been reports at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

When was the last time you heard a high-ranking, pro-military, hawkish member of Congress express concern about Iraqi deaths, much less stand in front of a bank of microphones and tell the entire nation the estimated number of Iraqi civilian casualties? That really impressed me.

Dan Bartlett may call Murtha's statements "out of the mainstream of his own party," but the truth is that the Bush administration is so far out of the mainstream of public opinion about the war that they look like utter fools for continuing to pretend that they have the American people behind them.

Public support for the conflict has dropped sharply over the last few months. Only 35 percent of those surveyed in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll published Monday supported the Bush administration's handling of the conflict, and 54 percent said the invasion was a mistake.

The poll also found that 19 percent of Americans want to see the troops come home now, and 33 percent said they wanted them home within a year. Only 38 percent said they should remain "as long as needed."

And even if not all members of Congress are as far along yet as their constituents, that is changing. "The Ice Age is ending," Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation writes, quoting Tom Hayden. "In the last twenty four hours, the momentum in Congress has shifted."

Let's just hope it's the beginning of the end of this four-year madness, and not merely the end of the beginning.

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