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 Rep. Jack Murtha's great speech tells the story.
It truly was a great speech, as the Marine veteran actually delivered it with extempore additions to the prepared text handed out after his news conference.
Listen to Murtha, and you will hear how the U.S. commanders in Iraq really see the situation: "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 percent . Clean 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 today's America:
"Now, let me personalize this thing for you . . . I 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 Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins started to send him bills. Then the collection agency started sending bills . . . Imagine, 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 U.S. troops from Iraq capped by one of the most amazing expressions of political reality ever uttered 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 a Bronze Star, one of the Armed Forces' most constant supporters. What more credible advocate for 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 of 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 Murtha and tell Chris Matthews 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 press 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 U.S. occupation of Iraq are also very clear."
They may be clear to McKinney and Murtha and 60 percent 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 continues to mumble about the "target date" for withdrawal being 2008, 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" that "would cause more problems for U.S. in America. It will matter to U.S. 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. The Sunnis' is clearly an "Armalite and ballot box" strategy.
Would there actually be a power vacuum if the United States withdrew, followed by civil war? The Sunni can't take Baghdad. They can't penetrate the main Kurdish and Shia areas. How exactly is the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 United States 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 United States will lead to an end to the armed resistance, just as Murtha said.
November 23, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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