Thursday, December 01, 2005

Murtha Says the Army is "Broken and Worn-out"

Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha has created another stir by telling a civic group that the Army is on its last legs:

Most U.S. troops will leave Iraq within a year because the Army is "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth," Rep. John Murtha told a civic group.

Two weeks ago, Murtha created a storm of comment when he called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq now. The Democratic congressman spoke to a group of community and business leaders in Latrobe on Wednesday, the same day President Bush said troops would be withdrawn when they've achieved victory, not under an artificial deadline set by politicians.

Murtha predicted most troops will be out of Iraq within a year.

"I predict he'll make it look like we're staying the course," Murtha said, referring to Bush. "Staying the course is not a policy."

Murtha, 73, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, expressed pessimism about Iraq's stability and said the Iraqis know who the insurgents are, but don't always share that information with U.S. troops. He said a civil war is likely because of ongoing factionalism among Sunni Arabs, and Kurds and Shiites.

He also said he was wrong to vote to support the war.

"I admit I made a mistake when I voted for war," Murtha said. "I'm looking at the future of the United States military."

Murtha, a decorated Vietnam war veteran, said the Pennsylvania National Guard is "stretched so thin" that it won't be able to send fully equipped units to Iraq next year. Murtha predicted it will cost $50 billion to upgrade military equipment nationwide, but says the federal government is already reducing future purchases to save money.

Conservative bloggers are incredulous and aghast at such heresy (and underinformed heresy at that) from someone in Congress who up until a couple of weeks ago was known for his hawkish views.

Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom (and I'm really wondering if Jeff meant that to be Protean Wisdom -- unless he really wants to convey that his insights come from a specific nutrient) thinks that Murtha is using circular logic:

This insane calculus -- which is the position of the Democratic leadership, at least in the House -- argues, in essence, that going to war puts a strain on our troops, and that protecting ourselves is impossible if our troops are stretched thin from protecting us.

Look, I'm the first to admit I'm not an expert on the military, but it's not war per se that has put such an undue strain on U.S. troops, and it's ridiculous to suggest that's what Murtha was implying, given his service in Vietnam and his support for the war in Kosovo and the Persian Gulf War, among others. Murtha is saying that going to war in the way and for the reasons that we did, and the way the Bush administration has chosen to use military resources, has strained the military's ability to defend this country to the breaking point. Of course it's an opinion, but it's not an unreasonable one, nor is it impossible to support.

Confederate Yankee counters Murtha with the argument that Army reenlistments are way up, and that U.S. soldiers are "optimistic about [our] chances for success in Iraq."

But the sources he uses to back up his argument don't seem to do the job.

His source for the claim that Army reenlistments are up is a USA Today article from July 17. But what he fails to mention is that, according to this article, one of the major reasons reenlistments surged during this period is the fact that Army recruiters were offering "unprecedented cash bonuses" -- an average of $10,000. In short, soldiers had to be bribed to reenlist. The article also notes:

The bright re-enlistment picture won't fully compensate for the recruiting problems, ... because the Army needs new troops to fill its lower ranks and has limits on how many senior soldiers it can keep.

Which is precisely the problem Murtha was talking about. Soldiers are doing multiple tours of duty because new enlistments are so way down. No matter how committed soldiers are to fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and I suspect the extent of that commitment is exaggerated (how many of those "committed" soldiers would have reenlisted without the cash bonuses?) -- you can't redeploy the same men and women over and over without causing a serious strain on your human resources.

The article Confederate Yankee links to to back up his statement that soldiers are optimistic about success in Iraq is an essay in's Opinion Journal; and I can't find anything in it that even addresses the feelings of soldiers in the field. As far as I can make out, the piece is based on an extended interview with Gen. David Petraeus, and it's about the general's feelings about how the war is going.

Lawhawk at A Blog for All also points to high reenlistment rates, and adds that it's Congress's fault if the military in Iraq is underfunded.'s Congress' job to make sure that the Army is properly funded to provide for the common Defense (Article I, Sec. 8, Clause 1 and Clause 12). So, if there is a problem, it's up to Murtha and his colleagues in Congress to make sure that the military is properly funded so that it has the proper levels of equipment and supplies. As we've seen in the past, Congress hasn't exactly been on top of making sure that appropriations for military equipment get done or making sure that the Pentagon is doing their job. That's called a failure of oversight.

Lawhawk does have a point there; but then again, Congress has failed to exercise oversight in a lot of ways the Constitution says Congress should exercise oversight -- and not only are folks like Lawhawk not concerned about that, but whenever Congress has made even feeble attempts to suggest that maybe oversight would be a good idea, Congress has been blasted by folks like Lawhawk for being un-American, anti-American, unpatriotic, for not giving the President the support he needs to fight the war on terror, and providing aid and comfort to the enemy.

Trying to have it both ways really undercuts your argument.

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